The 15 tourists arrived in the capital Nouakchott on Saturday planning to travel to the northern tourist hub of Atar, health ministry spokesman Abdelkader Ould Ahmed told AFP.
But Mauritania has imposed a confinement period on travelers from countries considered to be a high coronavirus risk – including Italy, which has Europe’s most cases with more than 3,000 as well as 107 deaths.
So the tourists spent Saturday night in a Nouakchott hotel while waiting to go into confinement, the spokesman said.
“They made the mistake of attempting to evade the conditions imposed by the Mauritanian coronavirus health plan by secretly leaving their hotel for Atar,” he said.
“The 15 were caught 90km from Nouakchott and brought back to the airport, from where they were re-routed to their country on Sunday via Morocco.”
Italy’s foreign ministry confirmed that the tourists had all returned home, “assisted by our diplomatic network”.
The Mauritanian spokesman said the confinement rules applied to “all travelers from risk areas, without distinction”.
He added that this “rigour has paid off” as the country has yet to register a case of coronavirus.