Maldives makes first commercial export shipment since coronavirus lockdown
Maldives has made its first commercial export shipment since closing its borders to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
The shipment of fish, airlifted by SriLankan Airlines on Tuesday, is expected to provide some impetus to the Maldives economy, which has been heavily affected due to the global pandemic.
SriLankan Airlines has airlifted a total of 245 tons of essential cargo to the Maldives since the shift to cargo-only flights.
The flagship carrier of neighbouring Sri Lanka and the country’s main domestic airline FitsAir are operating weekly cargo services between Male and Colombo.
Maldives flagship carrier Maldivian is also operating weekly cargo freighters to several destinations, including Sri Lanka, Thailand and Dubai.
Turkish Airlines is also operating a cargo service to the Maldives via Sri Lanka from Istanbul on every Tuesday and Friday.
Air freight rates are skyrocketing after the grounding of many passenger flights in Asia has left shippers scrambling to book limited spots on cargo planes, as Chinese industrial production restarts.
About half of the air cargo carried worldwide normally flies in the belly of passenger jets rather than in dedicated freighters. But deep flight cuts in response to the coronavirus outbreak have made the market more dependent on freight haulers.
By using jets outfitted to carry people to carry cargo instead, airlines are following the lead of Korean Air and Singapore’s budget carrier Scoot.
All international airlines have suspended their 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.
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 13 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.
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 April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 280.
Only one death has been reported and 17 have made full recoveries. Five remain in intensive care.
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.