Borders to open to visitors on June 1? National Assembly votes to keep borders closed on conditions | 07 May 2020
Leader of the opposition Wavel Ramkalawan yesterday moved a motion asking the government to keep borders closed to visitors until the COVID-19 situation around the world improves and an effective detection system for the virus is available, or until a proper protection programme for citizens is implemented.
In his intervention, Honourable Ramkalawan said he did not expect a debate or members of the assembly to take sides on the matter, considering the devastating implications of the pandemic around the world, as well as how the Seychellois public are feeling.
Referencing press conferences and advice given by public health officials over recent days, Honourable Ramkalawan emphasised warnings of a second outbreak, also making reference to the eleventh and last confirmed coronavirus case thus far, whereby a 26-year-old ground handling staff at the Seychelles International Airport contracted the virus, although it still remains inconclusive how and where.
Presenting infection and mortality rates from several of the 210 states affected by the virus, Honourable Ramkalawan said it shows no promise of slowing down, despite efforts to find a vaccine.
He also outlined the pros and cons of keeping borders closed so as to keep the risk of a second wave at the absolute minimum and to prevent a lockdown and curfew situation and the accompanying economic slowdown, although he also acknowledged the benefits including tourism arrivals and foreign exchange inflows into the system, and a reduction in the unemployment rate.
Honourable Ramkalawan proposed that cargo and essential flights be allowed and that instead of opening borders to visitors, there should be conditions in place to safeguard public health.
The motion was seconded by Honourable Clive Roucou, the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) representative for Plaisance who afforded his support for the motion so as to prevent a second wave and possible lockdowns in future, noting that the prohibition on movement was difficult for citizens.
“Does the department of health have enough swabs, do we have enough PCR machines (thermocyclers) to do diagnostic testing? Do we have enough personal protective equipment (PPEs) to protect our people on the frontline?” Honourable Roucou questioned. He also questioned whether local authorities have the capacity to test visitors, on account of the large number of tourist arrivals through Seychelles’ borders on a regular basis.
Numerous others intervened in support of the motion, including Honourable Ahmed Afif and Honourable Waven William who stated that there is a necessity to review the stated June 1 timeframe.
Honourable Sandy Arrisol, the member for St Louis, also intervened, urging all stakeholders to work together to decide when to open up frontiers.
Honourable Johan Loze, on the other hand, said that decisions pertaining to a public health emergency should be left to public health experts, as the Public Health Act stipulates.
Honourable Loze also noted that the power to lift the inbound and outbound travel ban is up to Public Health Commissioner Jude Gedeon, as announced by President Danny Faure.
“I want to today express confidence and trust in Dr Gedeon and Dr Louange’s (Danny Louange of the Health Care Agency) governance, and their entire team, from the volunteer driver to the volunteer telephone operator,” Honourable Loze said.
The second half of debates on the motion was primarily led by members of United Seychelles (US), with interventions by Honourable Sebastien Pillay, Honourable Simon Gill as well as leader of government business Charles De Commarmond.
Honourable Pillay cautioned against undermining the competency of public health officials and urged the public to trust the expertise of health professionals, who have up until now managed the situation and contained the virus at eleven cases.
Honourable Jean-François Ferrari of LDS also afforded his support for the motion but emphasised that the decision should be taken when the risks have been calculated.
During an emotional intervention, LGB Honourable De Commarmond said members of the US party would vote against the motion which is not in the interest of citizens or the tourism industry.
Honourable De Commarmond also said that the opposition party is spreading propaganda as it is yet to be announced that the airport will indeed open definitively on June 1.
In concluding the motion, Honourable Ramkalawan once again made mention of the potential risks of opening borders, urging better planning and analysis by all stakeholders to avoid the mistakes and shortcomings experienced during the ‘lockdown’.
“We will continue to push so that Seychelles is not overcome by COVID-19 and our nation live in security and in good health,” Honourable Ramkalawan said.
Eighteen votes were recorded in favour of the motion.