Remote Easter Island votes against welcoming back tourists to prevent new Covid outbreak

By Amanda Morrow with RFI
OCT 25, 2021 LISTEN

Despite being cut off from the world for more than a year and a half because of the Covid pandemic, the inhabitants of Easter Island on Sunday voted against reopening their home to tourists.

Sixty-seven percent of those who voted on the remote island, known for its impressive megaliths of mysterious origin, said they wanted to keep their borders shut – despite not having seen a tourist since March 2020.

The vote on the Chilean island in the South Pacific, some 3,700km off the coast of Chile, is not binding however. The final decision will be made by health authorities in the mainland region of Valparaiso.

So far Easter Island, which has some 10,000 inhabitants, has recorded eight cases of Covid-19 – and no new infections since September 2020. There have been zero deaths.

Most of those who live on the island are Rapa Nui, the indigenous name of the island, and are of Polynesian culture.

Large abstention

The simple question put to the people on Sunday was “Do you want to open the island to tourists in January?” Despite the resounding No vote, some 80 percent of islanders failed to cast a ballot at all.

"The island derives its income from the tourist industry. It's the source of the economy," said Salvador Atan, vice president of the local Ma'u Henua community, which administers Rapa Nui National Park. 

Like the local authorities, Atan is in favor of reopening the island on 1 January.

More than 73 percent of Easter Island's population is vaccinated against Covid-19, but the medical centre in Hanga Roa, the capital, has no intensive care unit. 

In contrast, Chile has recorded more than 1.6 million coronavirus cases and more than 36,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

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