Government, Geography or Good Luck? Minimal COVID-19 in Seychelles | 09 May 2020
On Monday, the Seychelles lifted some of its lockdown policies, allowing people back out of their houses and in some areas, back to work. Residents can now access the beaches, restaurants are re-opening and people are being asked to continue to consider social distancing. The islands only saw 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19, seven of which have now recovered, whereas neighbouring islands, such as Reunion and the Maldives saw 423 and 527 cases respectively. The USA is pushing towards 1.2 million, Spain and Italy saw over 200,000 and so far across the globe there has been over 3.5 million confirmed cases, with countless other unconfirmed cases at possibly a similar figure or higher.
So how did the Seychelles escape this pandemic? Good government? A beneficial Geography? Or simply good luck?
The government moved fairly quickly in the Seychelles, acting as soon as the first case of coronavirus arrived on the shores. In comparison, countries such as Britain, Spain and Italy were fairly slow to react. The Seychelles government basically closed the airport, stopping travel in and out of the country, closed schools and implemented some small initial measures. As the figures slowly rose, a draconian lockdown was introduced, barring people from leaving their house and stopping all non-essential work. Shops closed early, heavy fines and imprisonment were imposed on law-breakers, and social distancing continued to be encouraged.
However, as thorough as the government’s policies were, what we observed was a lacklustre approach to policing them. The streets weren’t empty. Non-essential shopping was still being carried out. Public gatherings continued. No-one wore face masks, and social distancing didn’t really seem to be being applied at all. We waited with bated breaths for the numbers explosion as the virus ran wild around the island… but it never came. But why? Geography?
There have been many theories thrown around as to why some countries have been hit harder than others. There’s still a debate on the effect of climate in slowing the progress of the virus (Washington Post). When the virus first hit China and Europe it was winter. By the time it arrived in the Seychelles, we were still embracing temperatures of 30 plus. This is the same for countries such as India. However, there’s little evidence to suggest that this is the case. There are theories regarding those countries South of the Tropic of Cancer (Reuters). South Africa, with a population of 57 million, still has only 6,300 cases. Argentina’s population is around 45 million, and only 4,600 or so cases have been confirmed.
However, some experts are suggesting that a Second Wave is set for the Southern Hemisphere, once the world tilts. Some of those who argue against the effect of heat on the virus do suggest however, that it was the weather that helped spread COVID-19 so rampantly in the Northern Hemisphere. Cold weather means more indoor time, more closeness to others, lower immune systems (Lower Vitamin D and Melatonin levels), less fresh air, all of which mean a virus can spread more easily (Reuters). Meanwhile, in the Seychelles, life went on at its easy slow pace. There are groups of people, but no packed subways, no busy malls; warm weather brings a natural social distancing as we’re not confined to small spaces. There’s also the humidity factor; humidity helps ease symptoms of a cold or other respiratory condition according to the Mayo Clinic. We definitely have humidity!
There’s also the mild case argument, where some experts have suggested that most coronavirus cases are mild, and many will have gone unnoticed, or at least confused with a cold or fatigue. The New York Times suggests that more than 80 percent of confirmed coronavirus cases are not severe (NYTimes). Could it be that any of the above accounted for a milder spread of COVID-19 and an immunity build-up of many in the Seychelles (Herd Immunity), which would greatly reduce the spread of the virus? This also ties into the access with China argument (Fortune). Many of the countries hit hardest had closer ties to China. The Seychelles has no direct flights to China and there is research ongoing into whether or not the virus weakens through transmission (Times of India). However, China’s neighbouring countries of Taiwan and Hong Kong, who have direct access, managed to keep their levels fairly low (Fortune).
So maybe it’s just the Seychelles and the Seychellois. We have a younger population here than in some of the more badly hit countries. Germany, France and Italy have the highest average age of mid to high 40s, whereas the Seychelles average age is 35. COVID-19 affects the elderly worse, so maybe our younger population dealt with the virus better? The reason why these countries have a higher average age is probably linked to better medical care and access to drugs. However, there is an argument that this reliance on medicine weakens the immune system, rather than allowing the body to fight, and as such makes you more vulnerable to a virus such as COVID-19 (Insider). Could this, mixed with a slower lifestyle, and a greater reliance of and use of local herbs such as Lemongrass and Moringa, which are great immune boosters, have helped the locals fight off any virus?
Or maybe it’s just good luck, or something greater. Many of the people we’ve talked to on the island seem to think so. No one really understands how the virus didn’t spread, especially with the lack of social distancing, lack of face masks, and the delayed response by the government to wait until the first confirmed case, before closing the borders. How the last COVID-19 case here, who had countless community contact, didn’t spread the virus to anyone at all is astounding. So maybe we truly were blessed. It does seem that the Seychelles, in comparison to the rest of the world, is not only the best place to be normally, but also during this pandemic, and we’re thankful to be here… especially now we’re allowed to the beach.
What do you think?