Chile will reopen Easter Island to tourists in August

In this file photo taken on Aug 11, 2013 Moais — stone statues of the Rapa Nui culture — are seen on the Ahu Tongariki site on Easter Island, 3,200 km off the Chilean coast in the Pacific Ocean. (GREGORY BOISSY / AFP)

SANTIAGO / LONDON / MEXICO CITY – Easter Island, one of Chile's biggest tourist attractions, will reopen to visitors starting Aug 1 after access was restricted at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chile's government said on Friday.

Easter Island, over 3,200 km from the coast of Chile, has over a thousand stone statues, giant heads that were carved centuries ago by the island's inhabitants, which have brought it fame and UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Easter Island has over a thousand stone statues, giant heads that were carved centuries ago by the island's inhabitants, which have brought it fame and UNESCO World Heritage Site status

"As of August 1, an increase in flights (two or three weekly flights, according to the epidemiological situation) and the opening of tourism, in conditions which will be communicated in a timely manner, will be allowed," the economy ministry said in a statement.

The government said it will improve health infrastructure to handle eventual coronavirus cases in the remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean known for its stone Moai statues. The government also plans subsidies to help small businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic.

READ MORE: Chile says Sinovac vaccine 67% effective in preventing infection

Residents of the island protested the presence of tourists when the pandemic started in March 2020, even taking over the airport to stop flights from the mainland.

To reopen the island, the government has started an official dialogue to "find a solution to the territorial conflict that has existed for over 50 years" between the local community and the state, it said in the statement

To start the dialogue, the government agreed to implement reparation and historical recognition measures while residents agreed to stop occupying the airport.

Britain

Britain reduced its COVID-19 alert level from four to three on Friday, saying the Omicron-variant wave of the virus was subsiding and healthcare pressures continued to decrease in all nations.

ALSO READ: UK sees more than 120,000 daily COVID-19 cases for first time

"Based on advice from UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency), we the UK Chief Medical Officers and NHS England Medical Director have recommended to ministers that COVID Alert Level should move from level four to level three," the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said in a statement.

The alert level was raised on Dec 12 when Omicron was spreading rapidly. 

Mexico

Mexican authorities confirmed on Friday the first death of a child from a severe form of hepatitis with unknown origin in the country, marking the first death in Latin America as cases spread worldwide.

The three-year-old child, originally from the central state of Hidalgo, was transferred to a hospital in Mexico City, but died this week, the Hidalgo Health Secretariat said.

Three other suspected cases of the disease are being studied in the same state.

Acute hepatitis is not usually seen in children, but in recent weeks doctors have observed an uptick in cases involving liver inflammation among otherwise healthy children under five years of age.

Six children have died globally.

The origin of the cases is still unknown, so it cannot be attributed to the most frequent variants of hepatitis (A, B, C, D or E) to an intoxication or an autoimmune effect.

Disease experts have not ruled out a link to prior COVID infection, but say the hepatitis cases are not caused by COVID vaccines.