Maldivian to operate repatriation flights to Sri Lanka, India

Maldivians are being repatriated from Sri Lanka and India, as the two countries tighten restrictions to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

Flagship carrier Maldivian will operate two flights to Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Sunday and another flight to Cochin on Monday.

Maldivians in both the cities were asked to contact the airline on Viber for bookings.

“These are challenging times and we want all to know that we are working tirelessly with the government on exploring avenues in getting our citizens back home from other destinations as well. Meanwhile please heed the advise of the authorities and #staysafe,” the airline said on Twitter.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a three-week lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people on March 24 to avert a massive outbreak of infections.

The country has recorded 3,072 coronavirus cases, of which 75 people have died. The state of Maharashtra, which includes the financial hub Mumbai, has 537 confirmed cases of Covid-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — and 26 people have died.

Sri Lanka has also taken similar restrictive measures, banning all incoming flights and imposing a curfew in certain areas in a bid to control the spread.

Maldivian currently operates a fleet of two Dash 8-200 series aircraft, eight Dash 8-300 series aircraft, an Airbus 320, an Airbus 321 aircraft, and 11 DHC-6 Twin Otter seaplanes. The Dash 8 series aircraft are primarily used for domestic operations, whilst the two Airbus aircraft serve the airline’s international routes.

The state-owned airline operates flights to all the 14 domestic airports across the Maldives, and runs international operations to South Asian neighbours like India and Bangladesh, and far Eastern countries such as Thailand and China.

However, travel restrictions imposed by the Maldives and other countries to contain the Covid-19 pandemic has forced Maldivian to suspend all of its international operations and ground the two Airbus aircraft.

Maldivian has switched to using its passenger aircraft to transport cargo, in a bid to ease import challenges for local traders and shore up the airline’s finances against the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The airline is operating cargo freighters to Colombo, Thai capital Bangkok, Indian cities of Trivandrum and Chennai, and Dubai — some of the most demand high supply routes.

Almost all international airlines has suspended their operations to the Maldives, as the island nation enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa last week in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Even before the 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 coronavirus 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 March. Officials say the number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives could drop by half in 2020.

With arrival numbers falling and the visa suspension in effect, 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 5.7 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $778 million hit.

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.

Seventeen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except four Maldivians who had returned from the United Kingdom — were later identified.

However, 13 out of the 17 have made full recoveries. The four Maldivian patients are being treated at designated quarantine facilities, whilst the other two had been repatriated to their home country of Italy.

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 partial curfew in capital Male and its suburbs, and a nationwide closing of schools, colleges and universities. Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks have also been shut.

Restaurants and cafes in the capital have been asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.

A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.

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