Mauritius facing an explosion of cases before its full reopening to tourists

An employee of a quarantine center receives an injection of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Victoria hospital in Quatre-Bornes, Mauritius, in January 2021. RISHI ETWAROO / AFP

Hospitals are saturated, artificial respirators are rare and the cemetery where the Covid-19 victims were buried is full: Mauritius is facing an explosion of cases that calls out, less than three weeks before the complete reopening of its borders.

Officially, everything is ready to welcome tourists at 1is October in this Indian Ocean paradise prized for its pristine beaches and crystal clear waters. The goal of vaccinating 60% of the population has been exceeded, with 61% of Mauritians having received at least two doses on September 11, notably underlined last week the authorities, who made vaccination compulsory in certain activities, including the tourism sector, under penalty of fines or imprisonment.

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But, far from official speeches and promotional campaigns, the island is noisy with concern. “The situation is getting worse, but there are instructions so that we do not communicate, says a doctor on condition of anonymity. The government’s priority is to ensure a smooth opening of the borders on 1is October. “

On July 15, the country reopened its borders only to vaccinated people, who were to stay in “Resort bubbles” for fourteen days before being allowed to venture further subject to a negative PCR test. From 1is October, tourists – vaccinated or not – will be free to move around as soon as they have a negative PCR test dating 72 hours before their arrival on the island.

“Are we going to attract currencies or variants? “

This reopening is eagerly awaited in the tourism sector, which represents 25% of the island’s GDP and 250,000 direct and indirect jobs. “My restaurant has been empty since March 2020. If the tourists do not come back, I will have to put the key under the doormat”, summarizes John Beeharry, restaurateur. Receptionist in a hotel, Diana Mootoosamy “Apprehend” this reopening. “There is no longer the fourteen-day quarantine and suddenly we find ourselves without a safety net. By welcoming tourists, are we going to attract currencies or variants? “, she wonders.

Since the partial reopening in mid-July, the number of cases has multiplied by more than five, from 2,461 on July 16 to 12,616 on September 10. This increase is by far the largest in Africa over this period, according to data compiled by AFP. Since the start of the pandemic, Mauritius has recorded 1,005 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, a figure significantly higher than the African average (598). The government attributes this increase to a relaxation of behavior and stresses that the new cases are mostly asymptomatic.

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Accused by the population of minimizing the number of deaths, the authorities revised the toll upwards on Friday, September 10. Initially announced at 34, the number of deaths has been increased to 89 since the start of the pandemic. But the Minister of Health stressed that the majority of them were not caused directly by Covid-19 but resulted from comorbidity.

At the Bigara cemetery, where the victims of Covid-19 were buried, the pandemic area is full. The bodies are now buried in Bois-Marchand, in the north of the island, triggering the anger of residents. On September 8, some threw stones at a convoy of health authorities that came to bury bodies.

“People don’t realize the gravity of the situation”

The official speech arouses mistrust. “We had closed the country, but the number of cases is exploding. Now, with a border open like a window, there is something to shudder “, estimates Paul Pierre, taxi driver, wondering about the effectiveness of vaccines. A variant, called C.1.2, was detected but it is a variant “Classic” and not a variant cause for concern, said Laurent Musango, representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) on the island.

Despite everything, the state of the hospitals is not reassuring. “People don’t realize how bad the situation is. We are told about many asymptomatic cases, but we are already beyond our capacity in terms of symptomatic cases ”, says a nurse at a Covid-19 treatment center.

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Opposition leader Xavier Duval warned in early September about the state “Alarming” care services after his quest “Traumatic” a bed fitted with a respirator for a friend with heart disease and Covid-19. He said he contacted the island’s main hospital and many private clinics before a center finally agreed to admit his friend, but only for 48 hours. “I’m afraid Maurice will come to a point where we may have to decide who will get oxygen and who will have to die”, he fears.

The World with AFP

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