Seychelles this month became the first nation to welcome vaccinated travelers from all over the world, sparking excitement among international travelers.
But there are reasons some travelers — even vaccinated ones — may want to wait.
Throughout 2020, Seychelles reported enviably low Covid-19 infection rates. Except for a small spike in June, the beautiful country in the Indian Ocean typically registered zero cases most days last year.
Then Christmas arrived.
From Dec. 28, Seychelles started recording double-digit daily infections. To date, it has recorded 1,033 Covid-19 cases and three deaths. That number is still low for a country of nearly 100,000 people — by comparison, the U.S. had reported nearly 7,500 cumulative Covid cases per 100,000 residents as of Jan. 24.
But over half of Seychelles' infections — more than 500 cases — have been recorded in the past two weeks. Unlike previous cases, which were largely found among foreign seafarers and visitors, the virus is now circulating among the local population.
Despite new restrictive measures, including business closures and travel limitations in late December, cases on the 115-island archipelago have continued to climb.
On Jan. 14, Seychelles announced it was opening to vaccinated travelers from all over the world. Effective immediately, the new policy would not require those with vaccinations to quarantine or take Covid-19 tests upon arrival.
On Jan. 22, the nation registered 210 cases, a new one-day high.
CNBC Global Traveler was unable to reach Seychelles' tourism department for comment. The office closed on Jan. 6 until further notice "in order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus," according to the department's website.
The Seychelles government also announced that anyone who tests negative for Covid-19, vaccinated or not, may be able to enter as early as mid-March. The decision is based on the belief that Seychelles will have vaccinated almost 75% of its adult population by that time.
Seychelles began administering vaccinations to health workers, media personalities and political leaders, including Seychelles' President Wavel Ramkalawan, this month.
The country wants to be the first country in the world to use vaccinations "to achieve herd immunity," according to a press release issued by the Seychelles' Department of Tourism.
Vaccines are largely expected to help restart international travel this year, but there are unanswered questions that may make relying on them problematic.
Trials have indicated that some Covid vaccines are effective in preventing severe illness, but it's unknown whether they prevent transmission of the coronavirus. That means vaccinated travelers may not get very sick themselves, but they may be able to transmit Covid-19 to others.
Separately, vaccines have varying effectiveness. Separate trials of one vaccine made in China generated sharply conflicting data, authorities in Brazil revealed this month.
Seychelles has indicated plans to use the Moderna vaccine in the future, but the injections it has administered so far are made by a subsidiary of Chinese state-owned conglomerate Sinopharm.
Despite being approved for use in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, some immunologists have expressed concern about a lack of information around the trial results for the vaccine.
In addition, not everyone in Seychelles is eligible to be vaccinated right away. According to Seychelles' Ministry of Health, people who are under 18 years old, pregnant or breastfeeding, or who have a history of severe allergies, chronic conditions and suppressed immune systems, should not take the Sinopharm vaccine.
Seychelles is expected to receive hundreds of thousands of vaccines from donations from private investors or countries for what is being called "vaccine diplomacy." The United Arab Emirates donated 50,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine last month. India gave 50,000 doses of its Covishield vaccine to Seychelles, according to Hindustan Times.
Vaccinated travelers who want to travel to Seychelles must show that they've taken a "complete dose" of a vaccine — meaning two doses, if required — at least two weeks before arriving, according to a press release from the Seychelles Tourism Board.
Travelers must show an "authentic certificate" of one of "the four vaccines currently receiving heavy media exposure" in addition to a negative result from a Covid-19 test taken less than 72 hours prior to traveling. Only RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test results are accepted.
Vaccinated travelers must also stay in hotels or guesthouses that have been certified for so-called "Category 1" travelers. As of Dec. 30, there are 532 such establishments, including Four Seasons Resort Seychelles and Six Senses Zil Pasyon.
Seychelles allows unvaccinated travelers to enter if they arrive via private jet or come from a list of 48 permitted countries. These travelers also have to obtain a negative PCR test result before arriving.
Like vaccinated travelers, those from "Category 1" countries arriving via commercial flights are required to stay in certified accommodations, but they can't leave the hotel premises for 10 days. Those staying longer than six days are required to take a PCR test.
Travelers from "Category 2" countries are subject to the same requirements but must choose a hotel or guesthouse from a smaller list of approved accommodations. These countries, which Seychelles calls "key source market countries," include Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the UAE.
The U.K. was removed from the "Category 2" list in late December.
It's impossible to know when vaccinated people will feel comfortable traveling, but there are indications some may be ready to venture out again.
Vienna-based travel company TourRadar is seeing an increase in "vaccine vacationers."
"We have received a substantial amount of calls from older individuals telling us that now that they have received their vaccine, they're good to go for travel in July," Vanessa Subramaniam, the company's global director of customer support said.
TourRadar reported that of its 2021 bookings, 52% are from people older than 50, and 30% are over 60 years old.