The Seychelles became the first nation to welcome vaccinated travelers from around the world this month, causing a stir among international travelers.
But there are reasons why some travelers – even vaccinated ones – want to wait.
A sudden increase in cases
Throughout 2020, Seychelles reported enviable low rates of Covid-19 infection. Except for a small spike in June, the beautiful Indian Ocean country typically had no cases most days last year.
Then came Christmas.
As of December 28th, the Seychelles saw double digit daily infections. So far, 1,033 Covid-19 cases and three deaths have been registered. That number is still low for a country of nearly 100,000 residents – by comparison, the U.S. had reported nearly 7,500 cumulative Covid cases per 100,000 residents on Jan. 24.
But more than half of the infections in the Seychelles – more than 500 cases – have been recorded in the past two weeks. Unlike previous cases, most of which were found among foreign seafarers and visitors, the virus is now circulating in the local population.
After maintaining low infection rates in 2020, Seychelles has seen some increases this year.
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Despite new restrictive measures, including shop closings and travel restrictions in late December, cases in the 115-island archipelago have continued to rise.
On January 14th, the Seychelles announced that they would be opened to vaccinated travelers from around the world. Effective immediately, the new policy would not require people with vaccinations to be quarantined on arrival or to have Covid-19 tests.
On January 22, the nation registered 210 cases, a new daily high.
CNBC Global Traveler could not reach the Seychelles Tourism Department for comment. The office closed on January 6 until further notice “to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” according to the department’s website.
Trust in herd immunity
The Seychelles government also announced that anyone taking a vaccinated or unvaccinated Covid-19 test may be able to enter as early as mid-March. The decision is based on the assumption that by then the Seychelles will have vaccinated nearly 75% of its adult population.
Seychelles began vaccinations this month for health workers, media outlets and political leaders, including Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan.
According to a press release from the Seychelles Ministry of Tourism, the country wants to be the first country in the world to use vaccinations “to achieve herd immunity”.
Possible vaccination problems
Vaccines are largely expected to help resume international travel this year, but there are unanswered questions that can make it problematic to rely on.
Studies have shown that some Covid vaccines are effective at preventing serious diseases, but it is not known whether they prevent the transmission of the coronavirus. That means vaccinated travelers may not get very sick themselves, but they may be able to pass Covid-19 on to others.
Regardless of this, vaccines have different levels of effectiveness. Separate studies of a vaccine made in China have produced highly conflicting data, the Brazilian authorities said this month.
The Seychelles have announced plans for future use of the Moderna vaccine. However, the injections given so far are being carried out by a subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned conglomerate Sinopharm.
Although some immunologists are approved for use in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, they have raised concerns about a lack of information about the test results for the vaccine.
In addition, not everyone in the Seychelles can be vaccinated right away. According to the Seychelles Ministry of Health, there are people under the age of 18 who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or People with a history of severe allergies, chronic illnesses and a weakened immune system should not take the Sinopharm vaccine.
Seychelles is expected to receive hundreds of thousands of vaccines from donations from private investors or countries for so-called “vaccine diplomacy”. The United Arab Emirates donated 50,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine last month. India gave 50,000 doses of its Covishield vaccine to Seychelles, according to the Hindustan Times.
For vaccinated travelers who want to travel
Vaccinated travelers wishing to travel to the Seychelles are required to demonstrate at least two weeks prior to arrival that they have taken a “full dose” of a vaccine – two doses if required, according to a press release from the Seychelles Tourism Board.
Travelers are required to present an “authentic certificate” of one of the “four vaccines currently under high media exposure” and a negative result from a Covid-19 test performed less than 72 hours prior to travel. Only Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test results are accepted.
Vaccinated travelers must also stay in hotels or guest houses that have been certified for so-called “Category 1” travelers. As of December 30, there were 532 such establishments, including the Four Seasons Resort Seychelles and Six Senses Zil Pasyon.
Others who can enter
Unvaccinated travelers can enter the Seychelles if they arrive by private jet or come from a list of 48 approved countries. These travelers must also receive a negative PCR test result prior to their arrival.
Unvaccinated travelers from Category 1 countries such as Australia, Iceland, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam can enter the Seychelles under test and quarantine requirements.
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Like vaccinated travelers, those from Category 1 countries arriving on commercial flights must stay in certified accommodations, but are not allowed to leave the hotel for 10 days. Those who stay longer than six days must do a PCR test.
Travelers from Category 2 countries are subject to the same requirements, but must select a hotel or guest house from a smaller list of approved accommodations. These countries, which the Seychelles describe as “important source market countries”, include Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the UAE.
Great Britain was removed from the “Category 2” list at the end of December.
When vaccinated people travel
It’s impossible to know when vaccinated people will be comfortable traveling, but there are signs that some are ready to hit the road again.
The Vienna-based travel company TourRadar recorded an increase in “vaccination vacationers”.
“We have received a significant number of calls from the elderly telling us that they will be able to travel in July after receiving their vaccine,” said Vanessa Subramaniam, the company’s global director of customer support.
TourRadar reported that of its bookings in 2021, 52% are over 50 and 30% are over 60.