La Reunion enters lockdown after slow vaccinations and ‘unprecedented epidemic growth’ led to UK’s French travel restrictions likened to ‘hammering Brits for a Falklands Covid outbreak’
- La Reunion, a French island near Madagascar, is suffering wave of Covid cases
- Having been largely spared first two waves, the island is being hit hard after the arrival of more-infectious Beta and Delta variants of the virus
- Low vaccine uptake has also left many people vulnerable to catching the disease
- Island’s plight thrown into spotlight after UK minister suggested spread of virus there was the reason French people have to quarantine on arrival in Britain
Those living on the Indian ocean island, population 860,000, will be largely confined to their neighbourhoods from Saturday – unable to stray further than six miles from home during the day and under strict curfew between 6pm and 5am.
The situation on La Reunion is being closely watched after Britain suggested it was the main reason why travellers from France are still being obliged to quarantine for 10 days on arrival in the country despite being on the travel amber list.
But that position was hammered by Brittany Ferries, which runs passenger boats across the Channel, saying it is ‘like France hammering British holidaymakers due to a Covid outbreak on the Falkland Islands.’
La Reunion is suffering through an ‘unprecedented’ wave of Covid infections driven by the arrival of new and more-infectious variants of the virus
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tried to clarify the reasoning to the BBC, saying it is not the distance that matters but the ease with which people can travel between parts of the territory.
French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune also lambasted the British restrictions as ‘discriminatory towards French people’ and making ‘no sense in terms of health policy’.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was then sent out to clarify the policy, saying La Renuion’s outbreak is not to blame and hinted that quarantine rules for French travellers may be relaxed.
Whatever the case, it has drawn attention to La Reunion – a small island off the coast of Madagascar – which is suffering through a painful wave of new infections.
Islanders were largely spared the first two waves of Covid but have seen cases spiral out of control following the arrival of new variants.
The French island, located near Madagascar, was largely spared the worst ravages of Covid in 2020 but has been hit hard this year with lockdown now in effect
La Reunion, which only reports case data once a week, was logging a little over 100 cases in each report it filed during January this year.
But that rose sharply to more than 600 cases in February, as new and more-infectious variants such as Alpha – the one discovered in Kent – and Beta – the one found in South Africa – began to spread.
The Delta variant – which originated in India and is more infectious than either Alpha or Beta – was then confirmed on the island in late June.
Since then cases have rocketed even further, with 1,450 infections logged in a report on July 13.
That prompted Jacques Billant, the prefect of La Reunion, to warn the island is now seeing ‘unprecedented exponential growth’ of the virus and that as many as 350 people out of every 100,000 inhabitants are now infected.
To help control the spread he announced lockdown measures which will begin this week, including confining people to the areas around their homes as well as shutting cafes, restaurants and gyms for the next two weeks.
Dominic Raab thrust La Reunion into the spotlight by suggesting it was to blame for French people having to quarantine in the UK, before Grant Shapps (right) shot him down
As well as the spread of new variants, a slow vaccination campaign has left many of the island’s residents vulnerable to infection.
France is now prioritising medical staff and supplies for some of its overseas territories after many of them saw the Covid situation rapidly deteriorate.
The French military has said it is sending 40-50 doctors and nurses to the Caribbean island of Martinique to fight a surge in cases.
The number of positive cases in Martinique has swelled from 2,241 last week to 3,537, while the incidence rate has gone from 280 cases to 995 for every 100,000 people.
Martinique, where only 15 percent of people are vaccinated, will also go into a three-week lockdown from Friday with only limited movements allowed in daytime and a curfew from 7:00 pm, said its prefect, Stanislas Cazelles.