Seychelles COVID-19 Mystery: Spike in Positive Cases Despite 70% Vaccination


The Seychelles, known for its beaches and giant tortoises, has recorded a spike in COVID-19 cases.

A significant surge in COVID-19 cases in the tropical island of Seychelles, despite almost 70% of the population having been vaccinated, is baffling health officials while residents are calling for stricter law enforcement, especially for tourists.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently working with health officials on the island to analyse the latest data, including patterns and characteristics of people testing positive, and will soon have a clearer understanding of the development.

To date over 68,000 people, almost 70% of the population, have been vaccinated in the Seychelles, reaching the target for herd immunity — indirect protection from an infectious disease when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection, according to the WHO.  

However, on 3 May the island recorded 500 new infections which has resulted in strict new lockdown measures being implemented a day after the spike in numbers. These include the closure of schools until 24 May and a ban on social gatherings including weddings, conferences, group sport events, graduations.

The case surge has raised questions regarding the efficacy of vaccination against the deadly virus and has shown the catastrophic consequences of relaxing public health measures. With less than 100,000 inhabitants, Seychelles is the smallest of any sovereign African country.  

Richard Mihigo, Immunisation and Vaccines Development Programme Coordinator at WHO, said the surge provided justification for the vaccination of more people in the country. “Until everybody’s protected, there is no reason why the disease will not continue in the country. So I think that is a very big illustration on how important it is to continue to vaccinate people,” Mihigo said.

There’s no official statement yet regarding the origin of the surge in new cases, but the global health organisation and local health authorities are carefully monitoring the development.

The island’s first COVID-19 cases were recorded on 11 March 2020 when a couple in their sixties travelled from Italy to the island. By 5 May this year, the smallest African country had recorded 6,273 cases and 28 deaths.

Analyses of Data to get to Root of Spike

The WHO said it is working with health officials in Seychelles to analyse the data and will soon have a clearer understanding of the development.

“Officials are already looking at the patterns and the characteristics of the people that are testing, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not, and then try to come up with a true picture of the situation that is going on in Seychelles,” Mihigo said.

Mihigo encouraged the Seychelles and other African countries to continue their vaccinations programmes,  taking into consideration the developments in Israel and the United States where the number of cases are dropping significantly due to the large number of people being vaccinated.

Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control (CDC),  also expressed his organisation’s willingness to help the government of Seychelles to understand the situation and to respond accordingly. 

While the scientists are researching the resurgence, citizens are also taking to social media to voice their opinions. Tessy Anne, who lives in Victoria in the Seychelles, said on Facebook that the surge in new cases may be as a result of poor enforcement of COVID-19 rules and regulations, especially for tourists visiting the country.

The Seychelles announced on January 14, 2021, that visitors from all over the world who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be able to visit without going through quarantine. The rules for opening up the East African island country known for its beaches and giant tortoises, could point the way forward for tourism after vaccines become more widely available.

“It’s time for the Ministry of Health to strictly emphasise that all visitors wear their masks in public. Too often they are seen walking about without a mask. Sometimes police officers also see them but do nothing, yet they fine Seychellois who they see not wearing a mask,” she said. 

Seychelles Urgently Needs to Regain Socio-economic Loss

According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) 62-page assessment of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 in Seychelles, the country’s GDP shrunk by 11.5% and unemployment rate rose from 2.7% in 2019 to 4.8% in the first half of 2020. Between March and September, 1,300 employees were retrenched and  4,000 applications by migrant workers were cancelled. There has been a 70% loss in tourism revenue.

Naadir Hassan, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Trade, noted in the report on the socio-economic report, that his and other tourism-dependent Small Island Development States, have been most affected by the pandemic, and face slow recovery as long-haul travel will take longer to return to normal. 

Experts are aiming to reawaken the discourse on diversification of the economy since the pandemic has clearly demonstrated the vulnerabilities that come with over-reliance on the tourism sector. 

But in the immediate term, all efforts are geared towards preventing the spread of the virus, investing in measures to stimulate local economic activity, support social cohesion, and address rising unemployment, in addition to ensuring the mechanisms for innovative and sustainable financing in the face of the growing debt burden remain at the core of the government’s response.

Seychelles kickstarted COVID-19 vaccination in Africa with the  country’s president, Wavel Ramkalawan being one of the first to receive the Sinopharm COVID-19 jab which he publicly received, an action that was geared towards getting more citizens to trust and receive the vaccines. 

Seychelles has been getting vaccines from different sources including a donation of 50,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine from the government of the United Arab Emirates and  100,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Government of India.

Back to Masks

Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan was one of the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

Oyewale Tomori, Nigerian professor of virology and chairman of Nigeria’s Ministerial Expert Advisory committee on COVID-19, told Health Policy Watch that poor communication regarding COVID-19 vaccines could create confusion. 

He noted that while the vaccines may not be able to stop infection, they can ensure the infections do not result in severe life-threatening diseases.

He added that efforts need to be made towards encouraging Africans not to get tired of observing the recommended measures including proper masking.

Thabani Maphosa, Gavi Managing Director for Country Programmes, added that health measures such as wearing face masks will go a long way in keeping the pandemic under control in the light of the paucity of vaccine doses.

“If anyone is still walking out there without a mask, it is like working out of your house naked and it is horrifying. We need to stand up to the virus,” Maphosa said.

Image Credits: Roadgoat, Seychelles government.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.