Covid-19: Galapagos Aims 100% Vaccination to Boost Travel Industry

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    Ecuador is trying to get more bang for the buck from its scarce Covid-19 shots by vaccinating the entire adult population of the sparsely-populated Galapagos islands, the nation’s main tourist attraction.

    Authorities are targeting a 100% immunization rate on the Pacific archipelago of 30,000 people by the end of May, Norman Wray, the top government official on the islands, said in an interview.

    That is intended to help revive the islands’ $350 million-per-year tourism industry, even while the rest of the nation remains virtually unprotected, with fewer than 1% of the population inoculated so far.

    The volcanic islands attract about 250,000 visitors in a normal year to see animals such as the huge Galapagos tortoise and the group of bird species known as Darwin’s finches. The waters are rich in marine life including dolphins and hammerhead sharks.

    The amount tourists normally spend visiting the islands each year exceeds the $290 million the country is planning to spend on vaccines.

    Vaccinating people on remote islands involves medical staff taking bumpy speedboat rides while the vaccines arrive by plane or helicopter to keep them cool and stable, Wray said.

    The health ministry said it couldn’t confirm whether Galapagos residents will be inoculated by Wray’s target date.

    Fees paid by tourists to enter the Galapagos National Park plunged 77% last year, and at the height of the crisis in May the park took in less than $100 in revenue for the whole month.

    Ecuador’s economy shrank 11% last year according to the International Monetary Fund, making it among the worst-hit in the region by the pandemic. And the tourism-dependent islands fared especially badly.

    At one point, many locals ran out of cash, and some were reduced to bartering fish for staples such as rice and diesel, according to Wray and local residents.

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