A last-minute revision of coronavirus testing and isolation rules, including seven days’ mandatory institutional quarantine even for those with negative RT-PCR tests, led to chaos at SSRI Airport on Saturday evening.
In amateur videos gone viral, angry passengers – many with babies – were seen as protesting against this last-minute decision by the Mauritian authorities.
Several took to social media to highlight grievances and the situation, denouncing that the daughter of a minister, allegedly on the same flight, was allowed to leave the airport.
“This is where Covid comes from…There is total chaos right now. We are inside a lounge… lots of security staff outside. We are being pushed like animals… No one is telling us what’s happening ,” said passengers who have been stuck inside the airport for hours.
The situation quickly escalated when they would not be able to go to their hotels of their choice or their places of residence.
Instead, Week-End newspaper reported, the passengers were told they would be forced to undergo PCR tests in the terminal and they would be placed in quarantine for a period of seven days in hotels already identified – Gold Crest and Palm in Quatre-Bornes, and Voila Bagatelle.
And they would have to foot the bills themselves.
Where’s the minister’s daughter?
Passengers from South Africa also vigorously protested that “the daughter of a minister, who was among the passengers on this flight, was able to leave the airport.”
According to l’Express, the passengers – including babies and seniors – were made to wait for at least three hours.
“Where is the minister’s daughter?”, passengers were heard shouting in another amateur video. Two Mauritian officers are seen as struggling to provide explanations. But, passengers are heard as insisting they will stay at the airport until they get a satisfactory explanation of the minister’s daughter.
Virologist Shameem Jaumdally was among the passengers who disembarked from the flight from South Africa.
“Initially, it was about self-isolation. Now, we learn that we have to go to the hotels of Quatre-Bornes because the others are occupied by tourists. There was no preparation,” the virologist was quoted as telling l’Express.
All attempts to negotiate were unsuccessful, as the police had blocked all exits to the terminal. All passengers were forced to leave for their designated quarantine centre.
The decision to place passengers from South Africa in quarantine was reportedly taken by the High-Level Committee on COVID-19 to prevent the entry of the Omicron variant, which recently appeared in southern Africa.
“… It has therefore been decided that passengers arriving on flight MK852, from Johannesburg to Mauritius on Saturday 27 November, will be subject to additional health screening. In addition to PCR tests done at arrival in Mauritius, passengers will have to observe an in-room, hotel quarantine period of at least 7 days,” said a press release from the Ministry of Health as stating.
“As of Sunday 28 November and until further notice, there will be no incoming passengers on flights connecting South Africa to Mauritius. Repatriation flights for Mauritian citizens, Resident and Occupational Permit Holders will be organised through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“While acknowledging the significant disruption which might result from such measures, the Ministry of Health and Wellness insists upon their upmost necessity to ensure the health and wellness of all,” the press release said.
It cited passengers as deploring that the lack of organisation “is pretty embarrassing for Mauritius.”
The Chief Executive Officer of a South African multinational company was reportedly quoted as declaring that “it is really a human rights abuse and we will ensure that no South African traveller comes to Mauritius in the foreseeable future.”