‘Mauritius is a beautiful place to live but nothing compares to Dublin in summer’

The island went into strict lockdown, shutting its borders. It’s now almost Covid-19 free

Niamh Ramjuttun from Co Meath lives on Mauritius with her husband, Vick, and their son.

Niamh Ramjuttun from Co Meath lives on Mauritius with her husband, Vick, and their son.

 

Niamh Ramjuttun, originally from Co Meath, lives on the east coast of Mauritius with her husband, Vick and their four-year-old son, Steven. She teaches English literature at a private French school on the island. 

When did you leave Ireland?
I haven’t lived in Ireland since 2005. I spent a lot of time travelling and working in various countries. Eight years ago I made the decision to settle down permanently in Mauritius.

How has Covid-19 affected Mauritius?
Mauritius has had 337 cases and 10 deaths. This was despite the forecast being for well over 1,000 deaths. We have had one of the most stringent lockdowns in Africa – everything practically closed overnight, schools shut, buses stopped, under 18s were not allowed out as the curfew was imposed. Schools instantly switched to online teaching, which is what I have been doing since mid-March. Only supermarkets were allowed to open and they were closed completely on Sundays.

In supermarkets, the government has implemented an alphabetical system: people with surnames beginning with A-I were allowed in on Mondays, J-Q on Tuesdays, and so on. Only a certain amount of people were allowed in at a time, and you were given only 30 minutes to do your shopping. Masks had to be worn, trolleys were routinely santitised and temperatures were checked.

Tell us about travel restrictions there
Mauritius started restricting travel as early as January 22nd. At that stage people entering the country from China were automatically put into quarantine for two weeks. People arriving from Italy were immediately quarantined since February 24th.

Once our first Covid-19 case was announced on March 19th and the government instantly shut all the borders. With the borders closed, the tourist industry was temporarily stalled. Mauritius welcomes more visitors to the country annually than there are permanent residents. Suddenly, hotels, restaurants, bars, tourist attractions, souvenir shops and more had to shut their doors. The restrictions have been lifted now, but employees from these places are still out of work.

Mauritius is an island too, like Ireland. Has that made a difference?
Mauritius being an island has made a huge difference during the coronavirus pandemic. I think the decision to close the borders was a necessary one and a brave one by the government given that our economy depends greatly on tourism. As an island, it was a straightforward procedure to close the country off from the rest of the world. Being an island also means that all visitors are checked as they enter the country, so quarantine could be managed more easily.
I can remember listening to debates on Irish radio at the end of February about whether the Ireland-Italy rugby match should go ahead in early March. That seemed odd to me. Taking control over your borders during a crisis like this seems quite basic.

How are things there now?
Almost all Covid-19 cases have recovered but the government retained the strict lockdown until May 31st, with most shops and restaurants opening only then. Even now schools are still closed, sports are banned, masks must be worn and social distancing is imposed in public spaces. The borders have not yet been reopened so the tourist industry is still at a standstill. But public spirits are high and there is a real sense of achievement that we have beaten this virus.

How will the pandemic affect Mauritius?
The real impact of Covid-19 on Mauritius is yet to come. Many people have lost their livelihoods and then there are the devastating consequences on the tourism industry. If we are to revive tourism in this country, we desperately need people to know that we are almost free of Covid-19 and this a fantastic place to visit. We are watching the rest of the world, hoping that they too can beat coronavirus and that air travel can take off again. However, I am immensely proud of how Mauritians have handled the crisis.

How will Mauritius cope with the consequences of coronavirus?
Mauritius has a unique culture, supported by a myriad of ethnicities and traditions. Mauritians have had to be adept at adjusting to new rules and regulations. For that reason, lockdown was readily accepted and people complied with the restrictions with a sense of collective responsibility. The actions of the government prioritised public health over the economy and that is still evident in the way that restrictions are being lifted slowly. Meanwhile, local people, and my family included, have taken to growing their own vegetables and staying so close to home that this  has meant a welcome revival for the idea of community here.

Is there anything you miss about Ireland at the moment?
I miss Ireland all the time. Mauritius is a beautiful place to live with fabulous weather, but nothing compares to Dublin in the summer. Right now, during this pandemic, I miss my family, but because of the lockdown,I chat to my mum now more than ever. My parents had planned to visit Mauritius in October, but that has had to be postponed. Nevertheless, there is a real sense that when we do finally get together again, either here or in Ireland,  the reunion will be all the better knowing that we have come through on the other side of a global crisis.

Share your experience of how Covid-19 has affected you there. Email Irish Times Abroad at abroad@irishtimes.com

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