Outrage over travel vlogger's stay on Yemen's Socotra Island during coronavirus pandemic
YouTuber Eva Zu Beck arrived in Socotra, located nearly 400 kilometres south of the Arabian Pensinula, on 11 March - the same day the World Health Organisation declared the global coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
Just days later, Socotri authorities decided to close the archipelago's borders. Zu Beck and around 40 other international tourists who had traveled to the island for its first-ever marathon event were told to leave as soon as possible.
While the other travellers made their way back home, Zu Beck and four others decided to stay on the island and avoided boarding two evacuation flights made available during the early days of the pandemic.
The travel vlogger has faced a backlash ever since, exacerbated by a CNN article published on Tuesday that critics said failed to interrogate the risks Zu Beck had introduced to locals.
She reportedly traveled to the isolated island from Bangladesh by way of Thailand and Egypt.
Concerned observers are worried the social media influencer unknowingly brought the novel coronavirus to the island, although there is no proof she did.
There are fears the potentially deadly Covid-19 disease could spread and cause devastation in one of the world's most impoverished nations - where medical facilities have been destroyed in Saudi-led bombing and malnutrition is prevelant.
Socotra island is severely ill-equipped to deal with a coronavirus outbreak. Despite improvements made over the past decade with foreign aid, medical care in the archipelago remains limited.
Many Socotrans seek advanced medical care on Yemen's mainland or elsewhere.
The isolated island has just one intensive care unit (ICU) for a population of 60,000 people. While figures of how many ventilators are in the main hospital are not available, Yemen as a whole has just 500 ventilators.
Zu Beck has been widely criticised for refusing to self-isolate while on the island, despite getting sick during her stay.
The travel vlogger has avoided the capital of Hadibu and travelled throughout the island, mainly camping or renting rooms from locals in rural villages.
"I prefer to be out in nature and living alongside rural communities, who have been kind enough to welcome me into their homes," she told CNN.
During her time on Socotra, Zu Beck has been admitted to the main hospital in Hadibu twice - once for a cut on her leg and another time for a "viral infection" and suspected heat stroke, although she did not identify the virus.
In a screenshot of her Instagram story, Zu Beck admitted to taking antibiotics for three weeks.
Ella Al-Shamahi, a member of the Socotra Archipelago Project, an initiative to preserve the island's unique and diverse ecology, has since launched a hashtag to urge Zu Beck to self-isolate.
"Social media influencer @evabiankaz
who went to Socotra island, Yemen during COVID-19 *STILL* refuses to self-isolate (or leave), she is hyper mobile travelling all over the island & interacting extensively with Socotris. Please respectfully reach out to her," Shamahi wrote on Twitter last week.
Twitter user @Habibiline alleged: "This vlogger keeps calling Socotra a 'desert island' but the reality is there are over 60,000 people on the island. She intentionally decided to miss two evacuation flights, as she does not want to infect her grandparents but she doesn't give two shits about people on the island."
Others have chimed in, calling Zu Beck's decision "selfish" and "immoral".
The travel blogger responded to the criticism in an Instagram post published on Tuesday.
"You have given me a new perspective and I apologise if I sent the wrong message before," Zu Beck wrote.
"Before, it felt safe to travel to different places around the island, but that's no longer the case," she said.
Zu Beck referred to her first month's stay on Socotra as a "honeymoon period".
"Over the last 3 weeks, I've been spending the majority of my time in a family home in one village and intend to keep it this way."
With hindsight, Zu Beck said she would not have traveled to the remote island if she had known the devastating extent of the coronavirus crisis.
"My intention was never to encourage active travel to remote places during a pandemic. Rather, I wanted to share the beauty of a place I was already in, a place that's little-known and needs to be protected," Zu Beck wrote.
"Remote places and populations are at a higher risk from the virus - in part because of limited healthcare infrastructure."
She added that she is planning on soon leaving the island.
Located in the Indian Ocean, the Socotra archipelago is recognised as a UNESCO world natural heritage site for its unique biodiverse landscape.
There are around 700 species of flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth.
Socotra has also been the site of a power struggle between the Yemeni government and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which is backed by the UAE.
Last summer, the UAE announced it was ending its role in the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
However, observers believe the Gulf country continues to be active through its proxies.
Before its withdrawal, the UAE set up a military base in Socotra, which enjoys a strategic location overlooking a vital international shipping lane, and took control of the airport.
It awarded Emirati citizenship to hundreds of residents and recruited scores of others to help consolidate its grip over the island. After protests from the government, Saudi Arabia deployed forces to the island.
The STC declared self-rule in Yemen's south late last month, provoking clashes between separatist militiamen and government troops on Socotra.