EU provides €2 mln coronavirus grant aid to Maldives worst-hit tourism

Grant aid of €3 million ($3.28 million), including €2 million ($2.195 million) to the tourism sector, will be provided to support the Maldives’ coronavirus prevention and recovery efforts, the European Union announced Thursday.

In a statement, the EU said it will provide €1 million ($1.09 million) to the health sector and €2 million to the tourism industry, including the smaller operators and their employees.

“In these unprecedented times, the EU-Maldives collaborative approach is needed more than ever: it is only together that we can address this global challenge, which was unimaginable only a couple of months ago,” Denis Chaibi, the EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, was quoted in a statement, as saying.

“European solidarity are not empty words: it means working jointly so that the health and tourism sectors in the Maldives can benefit from European funding, and that Europeans will be able to come back faster to the Maldives.”

The EU also hailed the Maldives “decisive, transparent and effective reaction” to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“EU’s offer of support is a clear demonstration of the reinvigorated bonds of friendship and cooperation between the Maldives and the EU, especially during such extraordinary times as now. I thank the EU for this timely assistance, which would help the Maldives in strengthening its health sector and assist in the economic recovery efforts, in particular, in the tourism related sectors,” Maldives foreign minister Abdulla Shahid said.

“We also hope to receive greater participation from the EU for the country’s socio-economic recovery plans. Covid-19 does not distinguish between borders and it is only through joint efforts, we can overcome this pandemic.”

EU has earlier repatriated thousands of tourists in Maldives.

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

With arrival numbers falling and a blanket 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.

Cover Photo: High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini (R) shakes hands with Maldivian foreign minister Abdulla Shahid during a meeting in Maldivian capital Male in August 2019. FILE PHOTO/ FOREIGN MINISTRY

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