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Mauritius battles COVID-19 explosion ahead of tourism reopening

HARARE, (The Southern African Times) – 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 travelers 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-19 treatment, and the opposition leader has discussed his struggle to find a bed for an ailing friend.

“People do not realize how bad the situation is,” said one nurse at a COVID-19 treatment center, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of possible reprisals.

“We are already above capacity”.

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.

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-19 jabs or risk hefty fines and jail terms of up to five years.

As of Saturday, 61 percent of the population was fully vaccinated.

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