Police clash with French islanders fearing coronavirus among tourists

Saint-Denis de la Reunion (AFP) –


Police used tear gas on protesting residents of France's Indian Ocean territory Reunion Island on Sunday who tried to block passengers of a cruise ship turned away from nearby Madagascar for fear there may be people infected with the coronavirus on board.

The incident came just hours after clashes between police and protesters near the airport in Martinique, another French overseas territory, demanding strict control of any new arrivals as panic over the outbreak spreads.

Early Sunday morning, the Sun Princess ocean liner of the company Princess Cruises docked at Reunion in the Indian Ocean with 2,000 passengers on board.

The ship, flying the British flag, was met by about 30 protesters who had gathered at the northwestern port to demand health checks of tourists to avoid the virus taking root on their island.

The locals tried to prevent visitors leaving the port, forcing the police to intervene. The protesters threw pebbles and bottles at the security forces, who responded with tear gas.

By this time, some 300 other ship passengers had already left the port by bus or taxi on different island excursions.

"Of course we are not against the arrival of tourists, they are necessary for the development of our economy. We just want to be sure that there is no risk of the coronavirus propagating," protester Yannis Latchimy said.

An agent of the regional health authority was at the port to offer face masks and leaflets with coronavirus prevention measures, but disembarking tourists were not seen having their temperature taken. None took the proffered mask.

"We don't know if these people are sick, they were not tested. It is very dangerous," said Latchimy.

On February 13, the Sun Princess was turned away from Madagascar on the grounds that 14 days had not passed from its previous stopover in Thailand, one of the countries with a coronavirus outbreak. The virus's incubation period is 14 days.

The ship then stopped over in South Africa before heading for Reunion, and is set to leave for Mauritius on Sunday evening.

No coronavirus cases have been reported in Reunion nor in Martinique in the Caribbean Sea.

In Martinique, police used teargas on Saturday to disperse bottle-throwing protesters gathered on the main route to the Aime Cesaire International Airport to demand all foreign visitors be subjected to coronavirus tests, as a flight was due to arrive from Milan in hard-hit Italy.