Singaporean billionaire Ong Beng Seng donates ventilators, masks to Maldives

Singaporean property tycoon Ong Beng Seng has donated protective equipment and ventilators to support the Maldives’ efforts to contain a coronavirus outbreak, the Indian Ocean tourist paradise’s foreign ministry announced Wednesday.

The donation by Ong, who is the co-founder and managing director of Hotel Properties Limited (HPL), which owns several resorts in the Maldives, includes eight ventilators and 100,000 face masks.

HPL owns the Four Seasons and InterContinental Hotels Group (HPL) properties in the Maldives: Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa, Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, Four Seasons Maldives Private Island at Voavah, InterContinental Maldives Maamunagau, Holiday Inn Resort Kandooma Maldives, and Six Senses Laamu.

The company also owns and operates Gili Lankanfushi resort.

Como Hotels & Resorts, a company run by Ong’s wife Christina Ong, also runs two resorts in the Maldives: COMO Maalifushi and COMO Cocoa Island.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministry said another unnamed Singaporean company has donated 5,000 test kits to the Maldives.

The supplies donated by Ong, who together with his wife are amongst Singapore’s wealthiest and have a combined net worth of $1.7 billion, and the undisclosed Singaporean company are now in the care of the Maldivian embassy in Singapore and will be transported to the Maldives soon, the ministry said.

Faced with the coronavirus outbreak, the Maldives is looking to ramp up its healthcare capacity by developing 200 new ICU beds and increasing the number of available ventilators to 246 from 97.

The tiny island nation has asked several international aid agencies and financial institutions for help.

The country has already received $20 million from the OPEC Fund for International Development, $17.3 million from the World Bank, $600,000 from the Asian Development Bank, and $3.28 million from the European Union.

It is also looking to borrow $29 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), tap into a new multi-partner trust fund established by the UN for Covid-19 response.

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 last week, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 86.

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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