Maldives enters nationwide total lockdown after coronavirus community transmission

Health authorities in Maldives has announced a nationwide lockdown, in a drastic escalation of the island nation’s response aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The new measures, ordered by Director General of Public Health Maimoona Abu Bark specifically for outside the greater Male region, include a ban on inter-island transport across the archipelago of 1,192 coral islands.

Public gatherings, including ceremonies and parties of all kinds, sporting events, and picnics, are also covered under the ban.

The restrictions will come into force at 4pm local time Friday and will be in effect indefinitely.

Local authorities have been asked to make the necessary arrangements to maintain an adequate stock of essential supplies in the islands.

The nationwide lockdown comes hours after the Health Protection Agency (HPA) extended a 24-hour lockdown imposed in capital Male and its suburbs on Wednesday.

The initial lockdown in one of the world’s most densely populated cities came after a Maldivian who presented to a dedicated flu clinic tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus which originated in China in December.

Two more direct contacts have since tested positive, making it the first virus cluster in the country.

All the previous cases had been linked to foreigners working or staying at tourist resorts and Maldivians that had returned from abroad.

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.

Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.

A three-case cluster, detected in Male Wednesday, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus and put the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Maldives to 23.

However, 16 out of the 23 have made full recoveries. Six Maldivian patients are being treated at designated quarantine facilities, whilst another 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 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.

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.

All international airlines have suspended scheduled operations to the Maldives, as the island nation enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in late March 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.

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.

Cover photo: Mihaaru News

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