Maldives allows entry of resort owners, investors under special visa

Maldives has relaxed border restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus outbreak, as authorities in the Indian Ocean tourist paradise announced a special entry visa for resort owners, investors and diplomats Saturday.

Mabrouq Abdul Azeez, the spokesperson for the government’s coronavirus task force, told reporters that new guidelines have been issued to grant “special permit visa” to investors, resort owners and diplomats.

“Resort owners, investors, and officials from international bodies such as the WHO or World Bank will be allowed entry under this special permit visa. This also establishes guidelines for diplomatic services,” he said.

Under the Health Protection Agency’s (HPA) new guidelines, those that enter the Maldives using the special permit will be tested for coronavirus within 24 hours of entry and asked to complete a 14-day quarantine. Another test will be done after the mandatory quarantine.

No inter-island travel will be allowed.

Resorts must make service arrangements with minimum staff. The workers will be required to remain in the island for 14 days from the departure date of the last guest.

In late March, the Maldives enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

All international airlines have since suspended scheduled operations to the Maldives.

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.

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.

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.

The government had formulated five scenarios with possible timelines for reopening borders and the tourism sector.

The best case scenario sees the country reopen borders by May, but the most likely scenario projects a July date for reopening the borders and restarting tourism in October. In the worst case, borders may only open by January 2021.

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 519.

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: Private jets parked at the Maldives’ main Velana International Airport during the peak tourist season in December 2018. FILE PHOTO/ MACL

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