Maldives, India explore joint coronavirus strategy, post-pandemic economic support

Leaders of the Maldives and India on Monday discussed ways to work together to contain the spread of the coronavirus and support post-pandemic economic recovery in the South Asian neighbours.

In a phone call, Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the precautionary steps they are taking, including social distancing, isolation of positive cases to break the chain of community transmissions, increasing the availability of resources for the immediate health response, and enhancing the capacity of healthcare facilities to accommodate an increase in patients.

The president and prime minister also discussed the possibility of the Maldives securing additional assistance from India to contain the virus.

In light of the economic repercussions of the global pandemic, the two leaders discussed measures that can be taken both bilaterally and regionally to mitigate the immediate damage, support national budgets and stimulate economies once the pandemic abates.

The president reiterated his praise for Prime Minister Modi’s early initiative to establish a voluntary regional Covid-19 fund to financially assist the countries of South Asia as they deal with the virus.

President Solih also thanked the Indian premier for the direct assistance the India has provided the Maldives, with special reference to the evacuation of Maldivian residents in Wuhan, China, visiting medical team from India, and facilitating the transfer of essential supplies from India to the Maldives.

“Ending the call, President Solih wished Prime Minister Modi well in his efforts to contain the virus in his country. The Prime Minister reciprocated the same sentiments, and wished the president and the citizens of the Maldives a blessed holy month of Ramadan due to begin in a few days’ time,” a statement issued by the President’s Office in Male read.

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 six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on Wednesday, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 60.

No deaths have been reported and 16 have made full recoveries.

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 stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, 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.

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