First Maldivian tests positive for coronavirus
A Maldivian has tested positive for Covid-19, officials in Maldives announced Friday, making it the first Maldivian to contract the novel coronavirus, which originated in China in December and has since grappled the world.
Health minister Abdulla Ameen told reporters in capital Male that the 38-year-old Maldivian was in mandatory quarantine after returning from the United Kingdom on March 22, when he tested positive for Covid-19.
He said the Maldivian did not display any symptoms on his return, but was immediately placed in a quarantine facility under a recent 14-day quarantine order for all arrivals, including locals.
“He developed mild symptoms while in quarantine. Samples were taken on March 25,” the minister said.
Officials, however, stressed that community transmission — meaning a patient had no known contact with another confirmed case or travelled from a country badly affected by the pandemic — has not been observed in the Maldives.
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.
A blanket suspension of on-arrival visa was also imposed on Friday.
Even before the on-arrival visa suspension, 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.
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.
Before the pandemic, the government had been bullish about tourism prospects, targeting two million, high-spending holidaymakers this year after last year’s record 1.7 million.
However, tourist arrivals saw a year-over-year decline of 22.8 per cent in the first 10 days of this month. With arrival numbers falling, several resorts across the Maldives had been closed.
Tourism has been the bedrock of the Maldives’ economic success. The $5 billion-dollar economy grew by 6.7 per cent in 2018 with tourism generating 60 per cent of foreign income.
However, the government is at present projecting a possible 5.6 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $446 million hit.
The government has launched an emergency MVR 2.5 billion ($161.84 million) facility and a package of financial measures to shore up the local economy against the coronavirus pandemic.
The MVR 2.5 billion stimulus plan includes MVR 1.55 billion ($100 million) in emergency loans for businesses to meet short-term working capital needs.
The emergency facility is complemented by a package of financial measures, including a six-month moratorium on principal and interest repayments for personal and business loans sanctioned by commercial banks.
Meanwhile, Bank of Maldives (BML) has announced a $2 million short-term financing facility for the tourism industry.
The facility by the country’s largest bank allows operational resorts and guesthouses finance up to $2 million to manage their working capital requirements, with a repayment period of three years.
Cover photo: From an emergency response drill organised by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) last week. PHOTO/ HPA