African Island That Stamped Out the Virus Now Needs Tourists

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Mauritius was the first African country to get the coronavirus under control. Now its challenge is how to let the tourists that are its economic lifeblood back in.

The Indian Ocean island’s success in quelling the outbreak is unique in Africa and comes as the disease is spreading across the continent, with countries from Kenya to South Africa battling a surge in cases since movement restrictions were eased. Mauritius is one of the few places in the world that hasn’t had a locally transmitted infection in over three months. It recorded its last Covid-19 death on April 27 and has managed to keep the total number of confirmed cases to just 344.

But in a country that relies heavily on tourism, the government is under increasing pressure to reopen its airport and rescue an industry that employs almost a fifth of its workforce. It’s not without risk: The Bahamas saw infections jump after opening up to travelers in July.

“We need an opening date so that the entire industry can work toward the target,” said Paul Jones, chief executive officer of The Lux Collective, which owns six high-end resorts and hotels in the country.

Strong Measures

The success of Mauritius, which has a population of 1.3 million, stems from the same factors that helped South Korea overcome its first outbreak: a strong central government, a well-funded health system and a containment strategy with widespread testing, contact tracing and quarantine measures. The government was among the first to require quarantine for travelers from China in January and one of few worldwide for front-line medical workers who’d been in contact with positive cases upon completion of their shifts.

“The government of Mauritius did a very good job,” said Laurent Musango, the World Health Organization’s country representative.

Mauritius closed its harbor and airport as soon as it confirmed the first three infections on March 18 and deployed police and the army to enforce a complete lockdown a week later. The government set clear guidelines as to what people were permitted to do — even restricting grocery shopping to specific days depending on people’s surnames once supermarkets were allowed to reopen.

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