SANTIAGO (AFP) – Popular Pacific Ocean tourist destination Easter Island will re-open to the world on August 1, after more than two years closed due to the pandemic, the Chilean government said on Friday.
The island, located 3,500 kilometres west of the coast of Chile, is world-famous for its “moais”, huge stone statues in human form partially buried in the earth.
“It has been agreed that the opening of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) would take place on Monday, August 1, 2022,” said a statement from the Ministry of Economy, Development and Tourism.
The original re-opening date was February, but that plan did not materialise under the government of former president Sebastian Pinera.
Authorities drew up a new plan to re-open the island after leftist President Gabriel Boric took office in March.
The island’s main source of revenue was domestic and international tourism before flights to and from it were grounded on March 16, 2020, following the first reported cases of coronavirus in the country.
Easter Island currently has only one weekly flight, operated by the Latam airline. From August 1, up to three flights per week will be operated by Latam to transport tourists, the ministry said.
The Chilean government has set a precondition that the local Covid-19 vaccination rate must reach 80 per cent for tourism to re-open. The current vaccination rate among the island’s 10,000 inhabitants is approximately 73 per cent.
The medical centre of its only city, Hanga Roa, does not have an intensive care unit, but is equipped with respirators.
An emergency flight to the mainland takes about five-and-a-half hours.
The island has had only a handful of cases of coronavirus.
No hospitalisations or deaths have resulted from the outbreak, according to local authorities.
In October, the indigenous population of Easter Island held a referendum on whether tourism to the UNESCO world heritage site should be resumed.
The result, which was non-binding, showed more than 67 per cent of those who voted were against the move.
Chile has recorded 3.6 million cases and more than 57,000 deaths due to the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization.