Maldives brings in 18 ventilators as coronavirus cases rise

Maldives brought in 18 ventilators Sunday, as the Indian Ocean archipelago has seen a rapid rise in coronavirus cases over the past few weeks.

A SriLankan Airlines cargo freighter carrying the 18 ventilators along with urgently needed medical consumables arrived at the Maldives main Velana International Airport Sunday morning.

“We appreciate the support team of SriLankan airlines worldwide and our country Manager Maldives Mr Fawzan for the unusual support for this difficult time,” Mohamed Firaq, the Managing Director of SriLankan Airlines local agent Ace Travels, said on Twitter.

These ventilators were set to arrive in the Maldives on May 1 but logistical issues delayed the shipment.

The 18 intensive care ventilators were procured through Medtech Maldives, a local company specialising in the distribution of medical equipment and supplies.

Medtech was given a MVR 14.4 million ($929,274) deal to procure 50 intensive care ventilators. Another 10 ventilators are expected to arrive in the Maldives on May 15.

Another local company, Nard Pvt Ltd, was awarded a MVR 8.3 million ($535,623) contract to procure 26 ventilators.

Health ministry earlier said that Nard was unable to deliver the ventilators on time due to challenges faced by its manufacturing partner. The company was exploring alternative options, the ministry has said.

Dubai-based Executors General Trading was tasked with procuring another 75 ventilators under a MVR 34 million ($2.2 million) deal done through the World Health Organisation (WHO). The company is yet to deliver the ventilators.

Authorities have come under fire for the major delays in getting the ventilators after it was revealed that open bidding policies were bypassed in favour of single source procurement procedures.

The health ministry earlier said single source procurement procedures were favoured due to the urgent need for ventilators.

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.

In addition to the ventilators being sourced by the government, well-wishers have donated ventilators to support the Maldives’ efforts to contain a coronavirus outbreak.

Some of the notable donations include:

  • 10 ventilators: From The Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation, the charity arms of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba and its billionaire founder Jack Ma
  • Eight ventilators: From Singaporean billionaire property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, whose Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) owns several resorts in the Maldives
  • Five ventilators: From Daniel Kretinsky and Jiri Smejc, the Czech billionaires who own the ultra-luxury Velaa Private Island resort in the Maldives

Authorities managed to mitigate the spread of the virus and the Covid-19 respiratory disease it causes amongst the Maldives’ citizens and residents early on by closing the Indian Ocean tourist paradise’s borders, earning praise from the World Health Organisation.

But the disease is now spreading rapidly, especially within the large migrant worker community in capital Male. Authorities have ramped up relocating workers from the cramped up dormitories in one of the world’s most densely populated cities to temporary accommodation units.

An estimated 63,000 foreign nationals work in the Maldives illegally out of a migrant worker population close to 145,000.

Foreign workers in the Maldives, predominantly Bangladeshi and Indian men, are subjected to practices indicative of forced labour, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, and debt bondage.

As most migrant workers live in extremely poor conditions, a widespread outbreak amongst them could lead to large virus clusters, overwhelming the country’s already under staffed and strained healthcare system and making it harder for authorities to contain the spread of the virus.

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 790.

Three deaths have been reported and 29 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.

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.

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