Mauritius tourism battles Covid-19 explosion

The authorities had ordered people in some sectors to have Covid jabs or risk hefty fines and jail terms of up to five years.

15 September 2021 | Economics

NAD SIVARAMEN

Hospitals are overwhelmed, ventilators are hard to find, and there's no longer enough space at the main cemetery for Covid-19 victims in Mauritius.

Barely three weeks before it flings its doors wide open to international travellers at the start of the peak tourist season, the paradise island nation is struggling with an alarming explosion in coronavirus infections and deaths.

In just two months, cases have jumped over five-fold to more than 12 600 as of Friday, by far the largest increase across Africa during this period, according to data compiled by AFP.

Since the pandemic started, Mauritius has recorded 1 005 cases of Covid-19 per 100 000 inhabitants, far higher than the continent's average of 598.

The crisis is now so acute that 74-year-old former prime minister Navin Ramgoolam has flown to India for Covid treatment, and the opposition leader has discussed his struggle to find a bed for an ailing friend.

"People do not realise how bad the situation is," said one nurse at a Covid-19 treatment centre, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of possible reprisals.

In July, the idyllic Indian Ocean holiday destination, renowned for its white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, partly reopened to vaccinated international visitors.

But they had to remain in "resort bubbles" for 14 days before being allowed to venture further afield, provided they had a negative PCR test.

Vaccination

The government reduced that timeframe to seven days this month ahead of a full reopening planned for October 1, when tourists will be free to explore the island as long as they test negative up to 72 hours before arrival.

"The situation is worsening," one doctor said on condition of anonymity, adding that medical professionals had been instructed not to talk about the crisis. "The priority of the government is to ensure a smooth opening of the borders on October 1."

The government has not given any explanation for the surge, but local media reports speak of people ignoring social distancing guidelines and throwing caution to the winds after getting inoculated.

The authorities had ordered people in some sectors to have Covid jabs or risk hefty fines and jail terms of up to five years.

As of Saturday, 61%of the population was fully vaccinated. But nevertheless the pandemic picture remains bleak.

Victims

Bernard, a worker at the leafy Bigara cemetery on the main island, said the area reserved for coronavirus victims was already full.

The dead are now being laid to rest at another graveyard in the north of the island, but locals are furious, saying Covid-19 victims are being buried too close to their homes.

L'Express newspaper reported that police had to be summoned last week when some youths began throwing stones at health workers who were burying the dead at Bois-Marchand cemetery.

The authorities have also been slow to paint a clear picture of the pandemic death toll, and announced a sharp revision to official figures Friday, from 34 to 89.

The health ministry explained its initial calculations by saying that the majority of the 89 fatalities were due to comorbidities and not directly caused by Covid-19.

Locals are conflicted about the relaxation of restrictions, with tourism contributing 25% of the archipelago's gross domestic product prior to the pandemic. -Nampa/AFP

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