Mauritius reopens to foreign visitors after coronavirus shutdown

The island nation of Mauritius has fully opened its doors to international visitors, hoping to rebuild its key tourism industry after long months of isolation because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The move on Friday was greeted with a mixture of optimism, relief and some caution in the Indian Ocean paradise.

“This reopening is inevitable because 100,000 families depend on tourism to live,” Deputy Prime Minister and Tourism Minister Steven Obeegadoo said at a news conference on Thursday.

He said 68 percent of the 1.3 million population had been fully vaccinated and 89 percent had received at least one dose – among the highest rates in the world.

Sheila Figaro, who specialises in handicrafts including making traditional Mauritian dolls, gave a sigh of relief at the border opening.

“Without the tourists, we are nothing. I can’t wait for work to return so we can start earning a living again like we did before COVID-19,” the 49-year-old said.

The first planeloads of tourists were arriving from Dubai, Paris and London on Friday and will have to meet certain COVID-19 testing requirements during their stay.

Obeegadoo said the country had “prepared well” for the return of international visitors.

“At the same time, increased vigilance will be required to reduce the risk of further contamination,” he said.

The idyllic holiday destination, renowned for its spectacular white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, had partly reopened to vaccinated visitors in July for the first time since the pandemic emerged in early 2020.

But they had to remain in “resort bubbles” for 14 days before being allowed to venture further afield.

Mauritius was removed from the United Kingdom’s red list last month, although the United States Centers for Disease Control added Mauritius to its list of high-risk COVID-19 destinations, saying travellers should “avoid” the country.

According to figures on the Africa CDC website, Mauritius had recorded 13,685 cases of the coronavirus as of September 26, but the weekly average has dropped sharply from an August peak.

In mid-July, when the country partially reopened, the number of infections was at 2,190.

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