Maldives builds 300-bed field hospital, says enough resources to fight virus ‘surge’

Health authorities in Maldives are confident that they have enough facilities and equipment to deal with a potential surge in coronavirus cases, after a 300-bed field hospital was completed Sunday.

The MVR 40 million ($2.6 million) field hospital, built in the satellite town of Hulhumale by soldiers and workers from state-owned companies, was handed over to the main Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) Sunday.

“We have enough beds even if there is a surge. We are now installing the necessary medical equipment. The hospital will begin treating patients soon,” IGMH chief executive Ibrahim Saleem told local newspaper Mihaaru.

Construction of the field hospital began in late March and was scheduled to finish on April 20, but it was delayed after several workers tested positive for the Covid-19 respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Out of the five buildings that make up the hospital, a four-storey building houses a 228-bed medical ward. There is a also second ward with 72 beds.

One of the buildings is dedicated to administrative tasks and laundry, whilst another is an accommodation block. The fifth building consists of rooms for funeral arrangements and an autoclave for disposing consumable items.

The field hospital will be used to treat mild cases that require hospitalisation. Patients that need intensive care will be transferred to the neighbouring Tree Top Hospital.

Health officials earlier warned of a potential surge in the number of coronavirus cases in the last two weeks of the month, with projections as high as 1,600 new cases on the peak day of May 31.

The revised projections were a significant reduction from initial estimates of 6,000 new infections on peak day.

The latest projections put the total number of virus cases in the Maldives at 77,305. Out of the 13,658 that are likely to be hospitalised, 5,805 are expected to require intensive care treatment.

But officials now say that the surge may not happen before May 28 — when the lockdown measures are eased.

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.

Local company Medtech was given a MVR 14.4 million ($929,274) deal to procure 50 intensive care ventilators.

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

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).

But only 28 ventilators have arrived in the country so far.

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 later spread rapidly 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 1,371.

Four deaths have been reported and 144 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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