Close to 700 Indians evacuated from Maldives in first batch
An Indian Navy ship carrying 698 Indian nationals stranded in the Maldives due to the coronavirus outbreak sailed off Friday, making it the first batch of Indians to be repatriated from the island nation.
INS Jalashwa will arrive at Kochi in Kerala Sunday morning where the evacuees will be quarantined for at least 14 days before being allowed to move to their respective destinations.
Indian Navy launched Operation Samudra Setu (Sea Bridge) last week, sending naval ships Jalashwa and Magar to Male.
The two warships will make four voyages — two to Kochi and two to Tuticorin — carrying over 1,800 Indian nationals evacuated from the Maldives.
The second batch of Indian nationals will leave the Maldives aboard INS Magar Sunday.
Preference is given to medical emergencies, stranded tourists, pregnancy cases and migrant workers suffering job losses.
Indians make up a large portion of the foreign workforce in the Maldives, with many from the Maldives’ closest neighbour working as teachers and doctors, as well as construction workers.
A total of 60 Indians have tested positive for coronavirus in the Maldives.
This repatriation operation comes weeks after Italy, Indonesia and Philippines evacuated over 700 citizens from the Maldives.
The EU and UK, as well as Russia, Egypt, Turkey and Ukraine have also evacuated their nationals from the Indian Ocean tourist paradise.
The Maldives has enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa 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 the visa suspension in effect and no international airlines flying into the country, 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 744.
Three deaths have been reported and 20 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.