Maldives closes borders to Chinese arrivals

Maldives has closed its borders to arrivals from China, as officials take preventive measures against the spread of the coronavirus.

Tourism minister Ali Waheed, who is leading a presidential task force convened to address the global outbreak, told reporters in capital Male Sunday afternoon that a travel advisory will come into effect at 12am Monday. All visitors travelling from mainland China, including any on transit flights, will be denied entry, he said.

The minister stressed that Maldivians returning from China will be quarantined.

“Safety of Maldivians and those visiting the country is our top and only priority. This was a necessary measure, in order to protect Maldivians as well as those visiting the country. This will serve as an assurance to visitors from other parts of the world,” Waheed said.

Health minister Abdulla Ameen said the travel restriction was ordered following the first fatality outside China.

A man died of the coronavirus in the Philippines on Sunday, the first confirmed fatality outside China. The patient was a 44-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan, in Hubei province, where the virus was first detected.

No confirmed cases had been found in the Maldives, but a Maldivian student had been quarantined after he displayed possible symptoms on his return from China. Authorities are awaiting test results from a lab in the Indian city of Pune.

However, the Maldives had earlier cancelled all direct flights from China.

The island nation had installed thermal screening cameras at its international airports. Quarantine facilities, including designated islets from the 1,192 islands that make up the archipelago, had also been established.

China is the top contributor to Maldives tourism, with arrival numbers recording year-over-year growth of 0.3 per cent to reach 284,372 in 2019.

The Maldives joins an increasing number of countries that have barred the arrival of foreigners from China and are requiring their own citizens to be quarantined.

However, global health officials have advised against the bans.

“Travel restrictions can cause more harm than good by hindering info-sharing, medical supply chains and harming economies,” the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday.

The WHO recommends introducing screening at official border crossings. It has warned that closing borders could accelerate the spread of the virus, with travellers entering countries unofficially.

China has criticised the wave of travel restrictions, accusing foreign governments of ignoring official advice.

More than 300 people have died in the outbreak so far, the vast majority from Hubei. More than 14,000 people have been infected.

The number of coronavirus cases worldwide has overtaken that of the similar Sars epidemic, which spread to more than two dozen countries in 2003. But the mortality rate of the new virus is much lower, suggesting it is not as deadly.

Cover photo: Mihaaru News

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