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Coronavirus: YouTube backpacker criticised for self-isolating on Yemen's Socotra Island

Social media influencer Eva Zu Beck refused last flight off disputed island despite fears over its ability to deal with virus
Socotra is an archipelago island in the Indian Ocean, located between Somalia and Yemen (AFP/Khaled Fazaa)

A social media influencer is facing criticism after choosing to self-quarantine on the remote island of Socotra, off the coast of Yemen.

Eva Zu Beck, a TV travel host and YouTuber, arrived on Socotra on 11 March. But after anti-coronavirus measures were enforced, tourists were subsequently flown out to Egypt in order to return home - a flight Beck refused to board. 

“I decided to stay because I thought it would be better than having to fly across four countries and several international airports to a place that I don’t even call home because I don’t really have one,” Beck explained on her YouTube channel.

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WAITING OUT THE PANDEMIC ON A DESERT ISLAND... MY TRAVEL UPDATE. Socotra Island is one of the most isolated places on Earth. I boarded the last plane here, unaware that hours later, the world would become paralysed. Last night, after several days offline, it turned out that ALL flights to and from the island have been cancelled indefinitely. With 5 hours warning, we were told one last plane would come to pick people up and fly them to Cairo. The choice was to 1️⃣ stay on this remote island in Yemen indefinitely, OR 2️⃣ travel “home” across 4 countries into the heart of the pandemic, and self-quarantine somewhere in Europe. There is no Coronavirus in Socotra and since nobody new has arrived in the last week (the island has been shut off to new arrivals since I came), it seems like a much safer place to be than any European city, or international airport. So, I decided to stay. I am officially waiting out the pandemic on an isolated desert island. With no plans to leave. Nobody knows when flights will resume - it could be a month or more. I know I am in a very privileged situation right now. I have no dependents, no apartment with rent to pay, no office to go to. I’m very lucky to be able to make this call. The saddest part is that @fearlessandfar had to leave on that last plane, so I’m here only with a couple of friends from Italy. These are my travel news. You can expect to see lots of video updates from this epic island in the coming weeks! Over to you: if you were in my shoes, would you stay or would you go? Photo by @fearlessandfar

A post shared by Eva zu Beck ♡ Adventure Travel (@evazubeck) on

A number of people online have criticised Beck's decision to stay and have raised concerns at the potential spread of the coronavirus and the island's lack of ability to deal with it.

“I don’t think you made the right decision. Everyone needs to respect this pandemic. Sorry to say,” one Instagram user commented.

“You do realise that you or someone else who came on the last flight could indeed have Covid-19?... Given the fact you’re on a remote island, people would clearly be unable to get medical help,” another said. 

“Why go there in the first place? The local population will not have what they need to fight this,” one user replied in agreement.

Socotra

In daily vlogs documenting her isolation on the island, Beck, who is with a number of friends living on a remote beach camp on the island, is seen interacting with local fishermen which disproves claims the island is empty.

In one Instagram post, she wrote: "I feel like this quarantine, in this setting, makes for a unique, interesting story. I hope you guys find it fun to watch, especially during a time where pretty much everyone living in towns and cities needs to be staying home."

Ella al-Shamahi, a National Geographic explorer - a group of groundbreaking scientists, conservationists, educators, and storytellers - told Middle East Eye: “I think it’s highly irresponsible for travellers and people with platforms, like influencers, to be going to remote regions.

“If you’re travelling to a place where there is a risk that you’ll introduce disease and where the local people do not have immunity, you are doing something unethical. 

“We have a long, long history of western explorers doing this to indigenous people.”

In January, Beck uploaded posts on her Instagram and YouTube channel describing her experiences travelling as a solo female in Saudi Arabia, prompting users to question if she had been paid by the Kingdom.

Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has rolled out measures in a bid to open up the country for tourism and to promote a liberal image of the country. Part of the strategy has included paying online influencers to come and visit the Kingdom and then having them post attractive content to entice their followers to visit in return.

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MY MOST SURREAL (BEACH) EXPERIENCE IN SAUDI ARABIA. I feel so confused about this post. Not a bad kind of confused, just... still asking myself questions. Here’s the deal: during my Saudi roadtrip, I spent 2 days camping alone on Farasan Islands, which sit in the far south of the country. My local friends weren’t sure if I would even be allowed to go there as a solo female foreign traveller, but the island authorities let me in without much of a glitch. This Red Sea archipelago is often praised for its pristine nature and relative lack of development. This may soon change, but that is how I found the Islands to be: quiet, empty, raw. And I knew I wasn’t going to pass up on the opportunity to go swimming in the Red Sea for the first time in my life. The question on some of your minds might be: but can you, as a woman, go swimming on a public beach in a country as conservative as KSA? It turns out that yes, you can. Only if you wear something that covers you up, in the style of the so-called “burkini” (gotta love that name btw 😉), so that you’re still in line with the local accepted dress code. And so I found myself jumping into the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia, chuffed and exited but really, also a bit confused. Confused about the pace of change in countries like KSA, confused about how I can have this experience where two years ago maybe it wouldn’t have been possible. Confused about how people would react: because the fact is, this is allowed, but not everyone knows that. Confused about how I might tell this story and where it fits in with my Saudi journey. It’s undeniable that the country is on the brink of a major cultural shift, and anyone can glean that from newspaper headlines. But it seems like this pace is unprecedented - and sometimes, even locals have a hard time keeping up with it. So I’ll leave it here: the water was warm, my head was spinning from overthinking, I had a nice time swimming around. Oh, and the coast guards who came over to check up on me, a tad too concerned about my well-being... Well, just like me, they were probably really confused about the whole situation too. 🙈😂

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Socotra is an archipelago island in the Indian Ocean, located between Somalia and Yemen, which sits at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden, 90km from the horn of Africa.

A Unesco world heritage site, it boasts zoological and botanical gardens which are home to relict species - the name given to a population that presently occurs in a restricted area, but whose original range was far wider. 

Whilst also being affected by climate change, Socotra has become the centre of a power struggle between the Yemeni government and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) backed-Southern Transitional Council.

Tensions remain despite peace efforts in the south of Yemen, particularly over the contested island. 

Arrival of UAE-backed forces stokes tensions on Yemen's Socotra
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Control of Socotra and the Mahrah province would enable the UAE and Saudi Arabia to gain strategic control in the Indian Ocean and pipeline access to the Arabian Sea to circumvent the Strait of Hormuz.

The arrival of US Marines on the island earlier this month has done little to ease tensions, with fresh fears their deployment may signal the establishment of a military base.

US forces had previously arrived on Socotra in December and reportedly began the installation of a Patriot missile-defence system to protect Saudi and Emirati forces on the island at the time.

On Tuesday, activists on Socotra condemned the continuation of flights by the Emirates airliner to the island over fears of the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Emirates has promised to temporarily suspend most passenger flights by 25 March as part of measures undertaken to limit the spread of the pandemic.