Two island nations praised for their efforts in vaccinations and reopening tourism during the coronavirus pandemic are now facing surges in new cases.
Seychelles and the Maldives, both known for luxury resorts and white sandy beaches, have reported more new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days than any other countries, according to The New York Times’ coronavirus tracker.
Seychelles, the world’s most vaccinated nation, has reported a daily average of 336 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days — the highest rate in the world. Just behind that is the Maldives, which has reported a daily average of 153 new cases per 100,000 residents in the past week.
Both countries have tightened COVID-19 restrictions, with Seychelles closing schools, the Maldives shuttering government offices, and both imposing a nightly curfew. Both countries are also still welcoming most international tourists.
“Travelers’ journeys to the Seychelles continue uninterrupted and the islands remain safe for travel despite a rise in community COVID-19 cases which has prompted tighter health measures this week,” Sherin Francis, CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, told Insider.
The Maldives’ tourism minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tourism and vaccination success stories
The two countries, both of which rely on tourism, had been seen as successful models of vaccination and reopening to tourists.
Seychelles was the first African country to start rolling out a vaccination program in January, according to the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tourism. Five months later, it’s the world’s most vaccinated nation, with 62.9% of its roughly 100,000 residents fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker.
In late March, Seychelles reopened its borders to international tourists with no vaccine or quarantine required — just a negative COVID-19 test. Since then, more than 20,000 tourists have visited, the country’s tourism ministry said last week.
Then there’s the Maldives, which CNN Travel in February called the world’s “biggest 2020 international tourism success story.”
More than 555,000 tourists visited the Maldives last year, surpassing the nation’s expectations of 500,000 visitors by the end of the year. That’s still less than half of its typical 1.7 million visitors each year, but those who did come stayed much longer than usual, with some booking out entire islands.
Currently the fifth-most-vaccinated nation, with 36% of its residents fully inoculated, the Maldives reopened its borders to tourists back in July without even mandating a negative COVID-19 test. The island nation started requiring a negative test a couple of months later but still didn’t instate a 14-day quarantine period like many other countries.
Last month, the Maldives said it would start offering vaccinations to tourists after it had inoculated its own population.
New surges, but still welcoming tourists
Despite the rise in cases, both countries are still welcoming international tourists.
Seychelles saw its active cases more than double in the first week of May, per Bloomberg. Nearly half of its 8,172 total cases have been recorded in the past month, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The rise in cases in the world’s most vaccinated nation has raised questions about the vaccination effort, with the World Health Organization stepping in to evaluate the situation, according to Bloomberg. Nearly 60% of the doses administered in Seychelles were Sinopharm vaccines, while the rest were Covishield, a licensed version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, per Bloomberg.
“Vaccination on its own will not prevent infection incidence,” Francis of the tourism board told Insider. “Serious illness has been prevented and the measures the country is taking are to reduce transmission.”
Last week, Seychelles announced it would be closing schools, imposing a nightly curfew, and banning gatherings between households through May 21. The country has also barred unvaccinated tourists from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and all tourists from Brazil.
The country has not, however, tightened restrictions for most international tourists. The tourism ministry said last week that Seychelles was still safe to visit despite the rise in cases and that only 10% of active cases were tourists.
“Most of the current active cases are residents within the community which has been attributed to people letting down their guard over the Easter weekend as well as the more recent Labor Day celebrations,” Francis said.
In the Maldives, more than 30% of the 37,019 total known cases have been recorded in the past month, per Johns Hopkins University. The South Asian island nation has imposed a nighttime curfew and closed its government offices May 5-15, instructing employees to work from home.
“The numbers are very high. If we are not able to significantly lower these numbers, we are going to face very difficult days,” Mabrook Azeez, a representative for the Maldives’ president, told US News last week.
Over the weekend, the Maldives announced it was barring tourists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, but it’s still welcoming all other visitors.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently advises Americans to avoid traveling to Seychelles or the Maldives because of a “very high level” of COVID-19 in each destination.