Velaa Private Island’s owners make major medical equipments donation to Maldives

Owners of the ultra-luxury Velaa Private Island resort in the Maldives are making a major donation of medical and protective equipment to support the island nation’s efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

According to reliable sources, the donation by Daniel Kretinsky, the owner of a $7.8 billion Czech energy conglomerate EPH, and Czech financier Jiri Smejc include:

  • Five ventilators
  • 10,000 test kits
  • 100,000 face masks
  • 200 respirators
  • 500 personal protective equipment (PPE) kit

Kretinsky and Smejc are reportedly flying into the Maldives on their private jets Saturday to hand over the supplies.

Kretinsky tested positive for coronavirus on March 12. However, he has since recovered.

Kretinsky turned EPH from a small Czech utility into one of the biggest power companies in central Europe in about a decade of debt-fuelled acquisition spree. The group had revenue of seven billion euros in 2018 and valued its assets in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Italy, the UK, Hungary and Poland at about 13.3 billion euros ($14.7 billion).

Smejc is close friends with the Czech Republic’s wealthiest man, billionaire Petr Kellner, and the two co-own Home Credit, a leading provider of quick retail loans in Russia.

Velaa Private Island Maldives. PHOTO/ VELAA

The owners are also financing a special relief scheme to shield the employees of the 47-villa Velaa Private Island from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is a departure from many other resort owners and operators who have furloughed several employees or enforced major cost-cutting measures after suspending the operations of their resorts.

The donations by Velaa’s owners come a week after Singaporean billionaire property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, whose Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) owns several resorts in the Maldives, donated eight ventilators and 100,000 face masks to the Maldives.

Other companies in Singapore and Thailand have also made similar donations.

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 Maldives is also looking to borrow $233.37 million from international lenders to plug the gap in balance of payments stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Funds already pledged by international lenders include $28.9 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), $20 million from the OPEC Fund for International Development, $17.3 million from the World Bank, and $3.28 million from the European Union.

In the meantime, the government will borrow MVR 4.2 billion ($272 million) under an overdraft facility at the central bank to cover state expenses and maintain public services amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

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 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 491.

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.

Photo: Daniel Kretinsky (R) and Jiri Smejc.

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