The Indian Ocean island nation Mauritius opened up its doors to international travel yesterday, after long months of isolation due to the pandemic.
But there is a catch – only vaccinated holidaymakers with a negative test will be allowed in, and even then they will have to be confined to “resort bubbles” for a 14-day quarantine.
“Without tourists in the country, we do not have foreign currencies flowing in. We do not have the funds to keep us going,” Lepoigner, 55, said.
“It is a tragedy,” the father of two added.
The global crisis has battered the economy in Mauritius, a paradise holiday destination known for its pristine beaches, turquoise waters and coral reefs.
Before the pandemic hit in March last year, the tourism and hospitality industry raked in about 24% of gross domestic product and employed nearly a quarter of the workforce.
But in the last financial year, the economy shrank by 15%. So the country is desperate for tourists to return.
“We are preparing for a gradual and sustained recovery of the sector, aiming at 650,000 tourists over the next 12 months,” finance minister Renganaden Padayachy said last month.
He said the government would give the tourism authority 420 million Mauritian rupees (RM40.8 million) to promote the island in key markets such as China, Europe and South Africa.
But with a full reopening to international travellers only planned from Oct 1, hoteliers will have to wait for business to bounce back.
‘Immense economic shock’
The effects of the pandemic have not been limited to the tourism sector, spilling out into other areas of the economy including transport, agriculture, retail and support services.
“Mauritius has not escaped this immediate and immense economic shock and destruction with ripple effects beyond the sector itself,” economist Rama Sithanen said.
And Mauritius, like other countries, is continuing to battle more virulent strains of the virus. The nation of 1.2 million people has reported about 2,190 Covid infections and 20 deaths, although the figures may not reflect the true situation because of limited testing.
But for Lepoigner, the return of tourists cannot come soon enough.
“Even though there is a risk of contamination with the new variant, either we die of hunger or we die of Covid. I’ll pick Covid since 99.9% of Mauritians have survived the virus since last year,” he said.
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