COVID-19 Vaccination and the Outlook of Opening Borders
Summary of presentations and discussions
20 May 2021
Recording of the Webinar
Dr. Pierre Fallavier, Senior Development Coordination Adviser at the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s office for Mauritius and Seychelles opened the webinar by welcoming all participants. He mentioned that this webinar is a series of webinars organised to assess the situation in relation to the COVID-19 crisis and to promote research and evaluate recovery options. This webinar is a series of events held in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous webinars have been on Data Sources and Data Collection efforts on COVID-19, Macroeconomic Implications of COVID-19, Sustainable Pathways to COVID-19 Recovery and Social Implications of COVID-19 on Mauritius.
Dr. Musango provided an overview of the COVID-19 global situation. WHO, as of 16 May 2021, had 162M confirmed cases, including approximately 3.3M deaths. Over 23M doses of coronavirus vaccines had been administered in Africa. In Mauritius, for the period 26 January 2021 to 18 May 2021, 223,737 people had already received their first does, while 113,711 citizens had received their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Musango shared some key messages allowing for a safe opening of borders. Among those messages, he stressed an equitable access to vaccines would require extraordinary measures and global collaboration. He also mentioned that there is a huge spike in the demand for vaccines, and the current supply cannot match the demand, and this is likely to persist for years rather than months. Dr. Musango stated that there is the need for a rapid scale-up of manufacturing capacity and cooperation is needed. On behalf of the WHO, Dr. Musango advised to adopt simple precautions, such as phusical distancing, wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, cleaning hands, etc, in order to avoid the spread of COVID-19. He also urged the population to take whatever vaccine is available and to be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Mr. Ali Mansoor, Chairman, Regional Multidisciplinary Center of Excellence (RMCE)
Mr. Mansoor talked about how the RMCE setup a platform for the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the region. He also mentioned that there is a scope for partnership among the RMCE, the IFC and the World Bank for production of vaccines in the region. This would ensure that countries in the region would be allowed a proper supply of vaccines.
Mrs. Twizeye shed light on the measures taken by the Secretariat to counter the effect of COVID-19. She mentioned that the COMESA established a technical team to coordinate the resource mobilization activities and efforts from external source to support member states to manage the pandemic. The Secretariat also donated USD 500,000 through the Continental COVID Response Fund, through the Trade Development Bank (TDB) to the Africa Centres for Disease Control (CDC). In addition, several measures were taken to facilitate safe-border mobility, migration and related trade flows, such as enhancing border management, raising awareness among migrants and mobile populations, among others. They also implemented COVID-19 related guidelines to facilitate the movement of goods and services in the region. The COMESA also developed an online platform to provide business facilitation for the region amidst the pandemic.
Mrs. Sherin Francis, CEO, Seychelles Tourism Board
Mrs. Francis brushed a picture of the situation in her country. Seychelles, having a small population size, was among the first countries to re-open borders after an intense vaccination campaign. Currently, the population is already vaccinated at 99.9% (first dose) and 88% (second dose). Tourism contributes to a major part to Seychelles’ economy. Since the borders were closed, very little revenue was flowing in. The Government helped the tourism industry by subsidizing wages. In August 2020, Seychelles opened its borders again, although with strict measures. The Government of Seychelles had to balance between opening borders and keeping the population safe. Visitors were requested to submit a 72-hour negative PCR test, stay in COVID-19 safe establishments, and adhere to sanitary measures. Mrs. Francis concluded that vaccination is necessary to keep the population secure, and the Government of Seychelles is doing the needful to allow visitors safely into the country, while maintaining the sanitary measures in place, to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Questions and Answers
Mr. Erik von Uexkull mentioned that the World Bank is contributing towards the procurement of vaccines and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for developing countries.
Mrs. Sherin Francis mentioned that Seychelles could not depend on traditional markets for tourist inflows. That's when they turned to new markets with the help of their market intelligence strategy. Tourists came from the UAE and Israel, while Russia is the number one market most recently. She also mentioned that the Seychelles government responded to press articles by giving their version of the story, as to what was really happening in Seychelles. They gave a balanced view of the situation in the country. This helped in assuring tourists that Seychelles is a safe destination.
Mrs. Sherin Francis also explained how they adjusted the measures when the pandemic situation was evolving. The authorities advised airline companies and hotel establishments not to apply penalties to clients who were canceling or re-scheduling their visits. She mentioned that the authorities are not willing to re-introduce quarantine impositions to visitors and would rather concentrate on domestic measures. The Seychelles authorities are also investing in training for employees in the tourism sector, as this would enable them to respond to the situation in a more professional manner.
She also mentioned that the Seychelles authorities have signed an agreement with the UAE for tourist inflows, for people who have already been vaccinated. They also have the intention to open travel bubbles to other countries as well.
Dr. Pierre Fallavier closed the session and hoped that the subsequent sessions will try to cover new themes and new territories and are willing to "build forward better".