Maldives to exit virus lockdown on Monday with ‘new normal’ measures

Maldives will largely lift a crushing lockdown on its capital region on Monday after two months, as the spread of coronavirus in the island nation slows.

The lockdown and stay-at-home orders in the capital region were initially ordered on April 15 for two weeks. They have since been extended several times.

The lockdown bans all public activity and travel in one of the world’s most densely populated cities and its suburbs of Hulhumale and Villimale. Any movement in and out Male and its suburbs, as well as the neighbouring industrial islands of Thilafushi and Gulhifalhu are also banned.

Health authorities began a phased easing of lockdown on April 29, but most restrictions remained intact.

Transitional phase until July

Health Protection Agency (HPA) said Thursday that movement restriction will be lifted altogether from Monday except for a nightly curfew from 10pm to 5am.

But children and elderly will have to follow set timings during the transitional phase, with children only allowed outside daily from 4-6pm and elderly from 5-8am. Outdoor exercise will also be restricted to 6-9pm.

Public gatherings of more than three people and family or house visits will also remain banned until the end of June.

Parks and public places, as well as local markets will open under HPA guidelines and with hand hygiene measures.

General businesses will still have to get a special permit from the police, to open. They also have to display the maximum number of people allowed inside.

Cafes and restaurants will be allowed to provide takeaway and delivery service only.

Face masks will be mandatory for closed spaces and public service areas. Physical distancing, and hand sanitising and washing must also be practised when outside.

Domestic air and sea travel between islands that have no active virus cases will be permitted. But travel to and from capital Male, the epicentre of the outbreak, will only be allowed under recently-announced home quarantine rules.

Borders to reopen from July

Once the transitional phase ends at the end of June, public gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed.

Government offices, as well as schools, colleges and universities will open.

Gyms, salons, barber shops and spa facilities can open. Both indoor and outdoor team sports can also resume.

Restaurants and cafes can begin dine-in service.

Borders will reopen from July, but only resorts will be allowed to cater to international visitors. Guesthouses on islands that have no active cases can also open, but they can only host locals and residents.

HPA said sector specific guidelines that follow a “new normal” approach will be issued at a later stage.

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 1,976.

Eight deaths have been reported and 1,153 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 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 were also shut.

Restaurants and cafes in the capital were 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 was also ordered.

These measures allowed authorities to contain the outbreak.

More than half of the people who contracted the virus have recovered and daily recoveries have over taken the number of new infections detected per day.

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