EU repatriates tourists from Maldives amidst coronavirus travel ban

The European Union has repatriated thousands of tourists in Maldives, as the popular holiday destination tightens travel restrictions to curb the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) said majority of the 34,000 foreigners vacationing in Maldives when the island nation’s government began taking unprecedented preventive measures late last month were Europeans.

A coordinated operation by the EU missions in Sri Lankan capital Colombo and Indian capital New Delhi, and member countries allowed thousands of European tourists to safely go back home from the Maldives, it said.

Norway and Switzerland also joined the operation as partner countries, whilst the UK High Commission in Male supported the repatriation efforts from the ground.

“… [EU, together with the partners] managed to find the right balance in relaying useful information to tourists, and in prioritising requests to the Maldivian Government, mainly keeping commercial flights between the Maldives and Europe,” the announcement by EEAS read.

“The cooperation with the government of Maldives has been excellent: the authorities were constantly updated on suspected and confirmed cases, and were open to suggestions coming from the EU, both on commercial flights and on isolation and quarantine measures for the tourists. This helped to keep the number of infected foreigners down.”

Maldives on Wednesday announced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Even before Wednesday’s announcement, the Maldives had closed its borders to arrivals from some of the worst-hit countries, including mainland China, Italy, Bangladesh, Iran, Spain, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. 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 were also banned from entering the country.

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

Cruise ships and foreign yachts were also banned from docking at any of the country’s ports.

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 — were later identified.

However, eight out of the 13 have made full recoveries, whilst the rest are being treated at designated quarantine facilities.

The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, 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 ban on inter-island travel of tourists, including for excursions and between resort islands.

A nationwide shut down of all guesthouses and city hotels has also been ordered. Spa facilities located on inhabited islands have also been closed.

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 been established.

The Covid-19 outbreak has hit the Maldivian economy hard, as travel restrictions and other preventive measures affect the country’s lucrative tourism industry, which contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.

Several resorts across the Maldives had been closed.

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