Was Seychelles ready for the early re-opening of the airport?

While the Health Authorities, the Ministry of Tourism and tourism-reliant businesses were readying themselves for the onslaught of tourists landing on our shores last week, Seychellois were finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, with the prospect of their families falling below the poverty line warring with the possibility of contracting COVID-19, or witnessing the collapse of our health care system if the pandemic spreads into the community and cannot be controlled or contained effectively.

As the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, stated,“the choice between health and economy a false dichotomy: it is not a trade-off –if unaddressed, the long-term costs of letting the virus roam free will be much higher than the short-term pains involved in slowing the spread due to local transmissions.”

The population drew a collective sigh of relief following the news of the recovery of the six Seychellois who had recently tested positive to COVID-19. However, the early re-opening of our airport to the world has kick-started much anxiety and trepidation in the population, particularly in light of the fact that other countries around the world are once again grappling with out-of-control community transmission rates of the virus following the early re-opening of their borders. It has already been shown through the recent flood of positive cases in the fishing fleets’ crew that our Authorities cannot trust passengers to have been truthful in their documentation, nor that their tests were 100% accurate or authentic, nor that they did not contract the virus after they were tested and prior to embarking upon their flight to Seychelles. It is now well-established that not all infected persons will display symptoms of the virus, so it is very difficult to screen for the virus at the airport. Once a positive case has been reported, the passenger may have already transmitted the virus to countless other people. The authorities will then has ten to halt the ripple effect, tracking potential infected persons through their contact tracing exercises.

Over the past few months, our Nation has experienced a culture shock, with the requirement of wearing masks on public transport being rolled out, freedom of movement being restricted and large social gatherings being discouraged. It has drummed home how much we have historically taken kissing a friend on the cheek, hugging a relative, dancing in a nightclub, or even touching a door handle, for granted. With over a thousandSeychellois already facing redundancy, a tourism revival is filling many business-owners with optimism about the future of their businesses. For them, it means bread on the table and the ability to cater for their families’ needs without having to resort to welfare.

While many tourism establishments are embracing the ‘new normal’ and are making preparations to welcome tourists, others have been squaring their shoulders and facing the grim likelihood that tourism recovery may take months, if not years ,and have advised their staff to seek alternative employment.

For those who have spent years training in a specific industry, or those who have spent most of their lives gaining experience in the field, being made redundant has been a hard blow. Being re-skilled is an unpalatable prospect for many, but remaining unemployed in this economic climate is even worse. The cost of living is astronomically high, and one simply cannot survive without a steady income. With many feeling as though they have little choice but to have faith that the Government has all the necessary mechanisms in place to halt any local transmission of the virus, it is unlikely that Seychellois will breathe easy this year.