Seychelles aims to save vital tourism sector by becoming first nation to vaccinate entire population

The Sinopharm doses should cover all Seychellois below the age of 60, with the Oxford vaccines making up the balance.

Although local cases of the virus have been few, the crisis has hit Seychelles especially hard as the islands garner around 65% of their GDP from tourism. The Seychelles’ rupee has fallen by about 30% against the pound and the US dollar, pushing up the cost of living for the islanders sharply.

2019 was a record year for tourists, with almost 400,000 arrivals, but this dwindled to almost zero by April and May 2020 and has been very low even since border controls were partially relaxed.

However, in the first months of the pandemic, significant numbers of Emirati royals brought a useful cash boost to several resorts which they occupied as a ‘court in exile’. With no other visitors allowed in or out, the rich Middle Eastern guests commandeered an entire resort in which Seychellois hotel staff working for them could isolate in return for a generous monthly bonus.

In normal times, Germany, France and Britain make up the largest percentage of foreign visitors. Until Christmas, the islands had no cases of community transmission of Covid-19. However, the president explained: “Things have changed since then, we had a taxi driver who contracted coronavirus, and we are now getting about 30 cases a day, although we think the curve is flattening.”

Ramkalawan won last year’s elections on his sixth attempt, overturning more than 40 years of power by the former one-party state. He acknowledges that obtaining the presidency during the global pandemic is not ideal. “One of the challenges we face now is that my predecessor was extremely generous with government money when the pandemic arrived. Public sector workers received their full salaries throughout, as did many private sector workers. This was a clear bid to convince voters during the elections, but the consequence is we are now borrowing from the Central Bank to run the country.”

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