Velaa Private Island ramps up coronavirus support, donates protective gear to local islands
Velaa Private Island in the Maldives is donating protective equipment to help the ultra-luxury resort’s neighbouring islands to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Local media reported Monday that Velaa Private Island, located in the northern Noonu atoll, has pledged donations to affected islands in Noonu atoll as well as the adjacent Shaviyani atoll.
Narudhoo in Shaviyani atoll is the worst-hit island outside capital Male. Eleven cases of the coronavirus have been found from the small island of some 600 inhabitants.
Ahmed Arif, who heads the island’s local council, told local newspaper Mihaaru Monday that Velaa Private Island had pledged to donate protective equipment, including face masks and gloves.
Single virus cases have also been found from the island of Milandhoo in Shaviyani atoll and Manadhoo island in Noonu atoll.
Velaa Private Island will reportedly make donations to Milandhoo and Manadhoo as well.
These community-focused donations come days after the owners of the 47-villa exclusive island resort made a major donation of medical and protective equipment to the Maldives government.
Czech billionaires Daniel Kretinsky and Jiri Smejc donated five ventilators, 10,000 test kits, 100,000 face masks, 200 respirators and 500 personal protective equipment (PPE) kit to the Maldives.
Singaporean billionaire property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, whose Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) owns several resorts in the Maldives, has also 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 527.
Only one death has been reported and 18 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.