Guam halts vacation-and-vax tours as virus cases rise

Hagatna (Guam) (AFP) –


The US Pacific territory of Guam has suspended a programme allowing international visitors to receive a Covid-19 vaccination while enjoying a tropical holiday due to a surge in virus cases.

The Guam Visitors Bureau this week halted the "Air V&V" -- vacation and vaccination -- scheme, launched in July in a bid to restart the island's pandemic-devastated tourism industry.

Infection numbers that once made Guam an attractive destination have exploded with an outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant, with 910 confirmed cases in the past week.

Health experts have ruled out a link between the vaccination scheme and the Delta outbreak, noting it was carried out with strict testing and safety protocols.

"There is no evidence that Air V&V contributed to the surge," Hoa Nguyen, former chief medical advisor to the governor, told AFP.

"Tourists are more scared of us than we are of them."

Guam Visitors Bureau president Carl Gutierrez said all arrivals linked to the programme had originated from Taiwan, but the last were on August 22.

"Since Taiwan is the only organised Air V&V, there are no more announced Taiwan flights," he told AFP.

"Both Lion Travel and Eva Airlines initiated longer term charter flights. We were supposed to finalise these discussions, then we hit rock bottom."

Guam ramped up Covid-19 containment restrictions last week, shutting down schools and imposing restrictions on public gatherings.

Businesses are still permitted to operate at full occupancy, but only the vaccinated are allowed entry into bars, restaurants and other public facilities.

The island of 170,000 has recorded more than 10,000 Covid-19 cases and 150 related deaths since the start of the pandemic.