Hospitals are saturated, artificial respirators are scarce and the cemetery where the victims of the coronavirus were buried is full: Mauritius is facing an explosion of Covid-19 which calls out within three weeks of the complete reopening of its borders.
Officially, everything is ready to welcome tourists on October 1 in this Indian Ocean paradise, popular for its pristine beaches and crystal clear waters.
More than 61% of Mauritians had received at least two doses by September 11, notably underlined last week the authorities, who made vaccination compulsory in certain activities, including the tourist sector, under penalty of fines or prison sentences .
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,” said a doctor, on condition of anonymity: “The priority of the government is to ensure a smooth opening of the borders on October 1”.
On July 15, the archipelago reopened its borders only to vaccinated people, who had to stay in “resort bubbles” for 14 days before being allowed to venture further, subject to a negative PCR test.
From October 1, tourists – vaccinated or not – will be free to move around as soon as they have a negative PCR test 72 hours before their arrival on the island.
– “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.
Hostess in a hotel, Diana Mootoosamy “apprehends” this reopening. “There is no longer the 14-day quarantine and suddenly we find ourselves without a safety net. (…) By welcoming tourists, are we going to attract currencies or variants?” -she.
The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the main US health agency, on Monday classified the island among the destinations at risk, recommending to “avoid” the country.
Since the partial reopening in mid-July, the number of cases has indeed increased by more than five (12,616 cases as of September 10).
This increase is by far the largest in Africa over this period, according to data compiled by AFP. Mauritius has, since the start of the pandemic, 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 stress that the new cases are mostly asymptomatic.
Accused of minimizing the number of deaths, the authorities revised the toll upwards on Friday.
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 were not caused directly by Covid-19 but resulted from co-morbodity.
– “Something to shudder” –
At the Bigara cemetery, where the victims of the island contaminated with Covid-19 were buried, the sector dedicated to the pandemic is full.
The bodies are now buried in Bois-Marchand, in the north of the island, triggering the anger of residents. Some threw stones at a convoy of health authorities who came to bury bodies last Wednesday.
The official speech arouses mistrust. “We had closed the country but despite that, the number of cases is exploding. Now, with a border open like a window, there is something to shudder,” said Paul Pierre, taxi driver.
A variant, called C.1.2, was detected but it is a “classic” variant and not a variant of concern, said the representative of the WHO on the island, Laurent Musango.
Despite everything, the state of the hospitals is not reassuring.
“People do not realize how serious the situation is. We are told of many asymptomatic cases, but we are already beyond our capacity in terms of symptomatic cases,” says a nurse at a Covid treatment center -19.
Opposition leader Xavier Duval warned at the beginning of September about the “alarming” state of health care services after his “traumatic” quest for a bed fitted with a ventilator for a friend suffering from heart disease and suffering from 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 am afraid that Maurice will come to a point where we may have to decide who will get oxygen and who will have to die,” he fears.