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Easter Island is suffocating: two years without tourists and without plans to open due to the coronavirus

Gone are those images of tourists walking among moais and lining up to be photographed with the famous Rapanui monoliths: Easter Island, the remote Chilean archipelago in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is about to turn two years closed to the world by the coronavirus and without close opening dates.

The bolt has plunged the island into a serious economic crisis and in the most absolute despair its nearly 8,000 inhabitants, who manage to “survive” as best they can in an archipelago basically dedicated to tourism.

Its mayor, Pedro Edmunds Paoa, told Efe that The situation is critical” and that the neighbors are beginning to “eat less and work half the day because there is no work either.”

“It is desperate and there is a lot of uncertainty,” said the mayor during an interview by Zoom.

A group of people and children prepare for the Tapati celebrations. Photo EFE

Even when?

The island, which was shielded from tourism after detecting its first case in March 2020 and since then it has only registered a dozen infections, it planned to open on February 1, but the appearance of the omicron variant in Chile altered all plans and the opening has been suspended indefinitely.

from the mayor’s office, the arrival of tourists has been conditioned to the fact that 80% of the residents on the island have the complete vaccination scheme (something recently achieved) and to the epidemiological situation on the continent.

With a daily average of 35,000 new cases and an average positivity of over 20%, Chile is in full escalation of the omicron variantalthough the hospital pressure is low due to the mildness of the symptoms and the high vaccination rates.

We want to open, but the situation in Santiago does not allow us. It’s like opening a floodgate and all the water coming on top of you. This is ómicron,” said Edmunds Paoa, who explained that the health capacity of Rapa Nui (local name of the island) is zero.

A woman displays a construction of rope knots during the Tapati celebrations.  Photo EFE

A woman displays a construction of rope knots during the Tapati celebrations. Photo EFE

For almost two years, only one cargo plane lands on the island that carries provisions once a week and transports back to the mainland neighbors who have to do some “urgent” management.

The Federation of Tourism Companies of Chile (Fedetur) asked the Government this week to act as soon as possible before the “tremendous human and social drama” who lives on the island.

“There is no longer any help that works. There is no economic activity that can stand up for practically two years without operating,” said the organization’s vice president, Helen Kouyoumdjian.

A family tapati

For the second consecutive year, Easter Island celebrates these days without tourists the Tapati, its most important festival and considered the biggest celebration in Polynesia.

Unlike those pre-pandemic times in which thousands of tourists danced for fifteen days to the sound of ancient songs and delighted with canoe races in the sea and banana logs on Pu’i Hill, the Tapati lasts just a week this year, with most activities ending before nightfall.

“We’ve never been closed for so long.. Our ancestors went through similar situations but of shorter duration, especially when there were leprosy outbreaks and from them we learned to be self-sustaining,” Akahanga Rapu, one of the event’s organizers, told Efe by phone.

Marlene Alejandra Saez, a teacher on the island, admitted to Efe that there is a part of the community that is happy with the Tapati having become a “family” gathering because in recent years it had become overcrowded with tourists and the families, “the center of Rapanui culture”.

“We are going to try to enjoy these days and lift the downbeat spirits of the community,” Rapu concluded.

EFE Agency



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