Slammed during the Covid era, Easter Island and its maxi moai reopen to tourists – Liberation

For the first time since March 2020, a tourist flight lands this Thursday on the Pacific island, off the coast of Chile. The end of a prolonged isolation which has permanently weakened the local economy but is blowing biodiversity.

The end of the tunnel. Almost two and a half years after the declaration of the state of exception due to Covid-19 in Chile, in March 2020, Easter Island finally returns to tourism, this Thursday, by answering its first tourist flight since the outbreak of the pandemic. On Monday, the drastic restrictions on the reception of visitors were lifted, as the Chilean government had committed to last May. A late return to normal for “Rapa Nuí(the name given to it by its inhabitants), the last mass tourism site in the world to keep its doors closed despite the decline of the disease and progress in vaccination.

Back to normal»? Not really. Because, initially at least, the curious will be accepted in dribs and drabs on this island located in the Pacific, some 3,700 kilometers from the Chilean coast. Only two flights per week, with 300 passengers on board each time, will be authorized, and proof of complete vaccination or a negative PCR test of less than twenty-four hours will be required to enter the territory. Far from the standards of the pre-Covid era, when 160,000 people transported by two daily flights are delivered each year to admire the famous moai, these immense and centuries-old stone statues on which faces are carved.

We have to open the island but we have to do it safely“, justified Monday the under-secretary of Tourism, Veronica Kunze. In fact, with only a handful of contaminations and none recorded, Easter Island has so far escaped the ravages caused elsewhere by the coronavirus, and the competent local authorities are continuing on this path. The high vaccination rate on the island – at least 73% of inhabitants vaccinated at the end of May, according to the latest available data – should reassure them. But the territory is particularly fragile: it has only one hospital, with eighteen beds, and it takes at least five and a half hours to drive a patient to the mainland in an emergency. Suffice to say that a large-scale spread of Covid-19 on “Rapa Nuícould have dramatic consequences.

In the meantime, the recovery of tourism relieves a sector destroyed in pieces by the pandemic, on an island where seven out of ten inhabitants depended on this sector before the start of the crisis. Suddenly, in the space of a few months, unemployment exploded, which now reaches 58% of the active population, and “Rapa Nuí» has lost more than 2,000 inhabitants, or a third of its total population, who have left to seek their livelihood elsewhere. “The companies are all bankrupt, up to their necks in debt with the banks“, deplores the mayor, Pedro Edmunds, quoted by El País.

Then the activity will resume in slow motion. For the first few weeks, more than half of the most visited sites will still be closed to the public, for lack of money to ensure a full reopening. The accommodation capacity of bungalows and luxury hotels will reach 2,500 places, less than half of the pre-pandemic total – but more than enough to ensure the care of all tourists, given the access conditions still limited. Nevertheless: the local councilor is not reassured. “Our stomachs are knotted with fear before the reopening“, he confides to the press, criticizing in passing the financial aid deemed late and defective from the government of Santiago.

Killer for the tourism sector of Easter Island, the Covid-19 pandemic seems on the other hand to have been beneficial to the environment. Due to building construction and the mass of waste it generated, overcrowding threatened the abundant and endemic fauna of the National Park.Rapa Nuí“. A biodiversity that has been obtained, thanks to the coronavirus, an unexpected respite. Especially since the inhabitants took the opportunity to convert to the circular economy, according to Pedro Edmunds, who indicates that nearly a thousand vegetable gardens have been created since the spring of 2020. And to conclude: “There will be a before and after for tourism here. The population is now much more aware of the protection of the environment.”


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