Maldives extends coronavirus travel bans to cover UK, Malaysia

Maldives on Tuesday announced a ban on visitors from the United Kingdom and Malaysia, as the popular island nation takes a series of drastic preventive measures aimed at containing the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Mabrouk Aziz, a spokesperson for a government task force on the Covid-19 epidemic, told reporters in capital Male Tuesday afternoon that a travel ban on visitors from the UK will come into effect on Thursday. Visitors from Malaysia will be barred from entering the country from 6pm Tuesday local time, he said.

The ban extends to transit passengers as well.

“Any Maldivian returning from these two countries will be isolated for 14 days, as per protocol,” Aziz said.

The number of people who have died with the virus in the UK has reached 55.

More than 1,500 people have tested positive for the virus in the UK — but the actual number of cases is estimated to be between 35,000 and 50,000.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday urged Brits to avoid unnecessary social contacts, to work from home where possible, to stay away from pubs and restaurants, and to avoid unnecessary travel.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced on Monday some of the most far-reaching measures yet imposed in the region, with strict nationwide controls locking down all travel in or out of the country in an effort to stem infections of Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

Malaysians will be banned from traveling abroad, whilst foreign tourists and visitors will be restricted from entering the country. All Malaysians who have just returned from overseas will be required to undergo a health check and self-quarantine for 14 days.

The sweeping travel ban came as Malaysia reported 125 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 553. On Sunday, the country reported 190 new cases.

The UK is amongst the most important traditional source markets to Maldives tourism. In January, the UK was ranked as the fifth highest contributor to Maldives tourism.

Arrivals to the Maldives from Malaysia has also seen a sharp increase over the past few years.

On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.

Eleven more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels — have since been identified. All the patients are under isolation, being treated at designated quarantine facilities.

Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on Thursday, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.

The public health emergency declaration has allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including a 14-day ban on inter-island travel of tourists, including for excursions and between resort islands.

Guesthouses and hotels in capital Male and its suburbs of Hulhumale and Villimale have also been shut down for two weeks.

The Maldives had closed its borders to arrivals from the worst-hit countries, including mainland China, Italy, Bangladesh, Iran and Spain. Visitors from three regions of Germany (Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg), two regions of France (Île-de-France and Grand Est) and two regions of South Korea are also banned from entering the country.

Cruise ships had also been banned from docking at any of the country’s ports.

All direct flights to and from China, Italy, South Korea and Iran had also been cancelled.

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.

The global coronavirus outbreak is expected to hit the Maldivian economy hard, as tourism contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.

The government has already announced several cost cutting measures, including a freeze on the hiring of new staff and suspension of non-essential travel by state officials.

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