By Sonu Shivdasani
As lockdowns go, we mustn’t complain. My wife, Eva, and I have been marooned on Soneva Fushi — the luxury resort we own in the Maldives — for the past four months, alongside some 70 foreign guests, who stayed on as the country closed its borders, rather than risk going back home. Free to roam our castaway island paradise, life tends to revolve around morning yoga, afternoon swims, and sunset cocktails overlooking the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean.
The other day, as I was taking my swim in the lagoon, I came eyeball-to-eyeball with a two-metre-long reef shark. In my twenty-five years living on Soneva Fushi, I have never seen such a big shark swimming so close to shore. In other parts of the world, lockdowns have led to goats, swans and wild boar taking over village greens and town centres. In the Maldives, it’s the (harmless) sharks, dolphins and manta rays that are enjoying a holiday without humans.
As enjoyable as my lockdown has been, it is surely time for it to come to an end. Very few have been as fortunate as I. For most people, in the Maldives and other countries that imposed drastic restrictions to contain the virus, the economic and social costs of being locked down have been terribly high.
Moreover, as the weeks pass, and our understanding of Covid-19 improves, it is clear that, while potentially lethal for older people and those with underlying health complications, for healthy, younger people, the chance of dying from the virus is vanishingly small. In badly hit parts of New York City, for instance, where infection rates were as high as 25 per cent, for those under 45 years the survival rate was 99.98 per cent.
As new information pours in from around the world, and we develop a more nuanced understanding of Covid-19, our measures to control the virus must also become more sophisticated. General lockdowns and international border closures – which are devastating huge chunks of the economy, and the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people – don’t make sense, when rapid testing, contract tracing, and good hygiene are so effective at preventing the virus’s spread — and when the virus poses such a tiny threat to young and middle-aged people.
The greatest fear is fear itself.Franklin D. Roosevelt
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to easing the lockdown is fear. The world’s newspapers and TV stations have gorged on the coronavirus, producing blanket coverage of mortality rates and other frightening details. Not surprisingly, the ‘danger indicator’ that sits in the left side of our brains remains on high alert. Like a thermometer, once the danger indicator rises, it takes a lot of shaking with facts and reason to bring it back down.
To quote Hans Rosling: “We need to learn to control our drama intake. Uncontrolled, our appetite for the dramatic goes too far, prevents us from seeing the world as it is, and leads us terribly astray.”
Here are some facts to reduce our intake of drama, and temper our fears of Covid-19:
- Due to a misunderstanding of the true extent of the infection in China, initial projections of a 3-5 per cent fatality rate were far too high.
- Many countries vastly overstated their likely number of deaths. Uppsala University in Sweden, for instance, predicted 90,000 deaths in one month, but Sweden has had a total of 4,800 virus deaths to date.
- Likewise, on the 29 March, Columbia University issued a report highlighting a need for 136,000 hospital beds in New York City. In the end, 12,000 sufficed.
- According to recent research by the United States Biodefence and Countermeasures Centre, the half-life of the Covid-19 virus in mild conditions such as 75oF and 25 per cent humidity is 18 hours. But when the temperature rises to 95oF and the humidity rate increases to 80 per cent (conditions found in the Maldives and other tropical countries), the half-life reduces to 1 hour.
- According to the United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC), there are no documented cases of a person becoming infected from a surface contaminated with Covid-19. Yet, every hotel and resort mini-film I have watched about reopening – including our own – has footage of an employee diligently wiping down surfaces.
- A Hong Kong study, involving an analysis of 7,324 cases in China, identified 318 distinct outbreaks, all but one of which occurred indoors. This suggests the risk of catching Covid-19 outdoors is low.
I attach a graph produced by Sir David Spiegelhalter of Imperial College, London.
Prof. Spiegelhalter highlights in the graph that coronavirus roughly doubles your chance of death once you hit around 40. While that might sound scary, we have to bear in mind that the risk of death for those under 45 or so is extremely low – 0.1 per cent per year. A 40-year-old with coronavirus therefore has a risk of death of about 0.2 per cent, rather than 0.1 per cent.
There has been much controversy over the Swedish approach to the virus, which involved far less restrictive measures compared with other European countries. The below table, from Worldometer last week, shows that Sweden suffered lower deaths per capita than countries that enforced strict lockdowns.
Our understanding of, and knowledge of how to treat the virus has evolved considerably since those dark days at the beginning of the year:
There have been breakthroughs in treating Covid-19 by the medical world: Gilead with Remdesivir, and the Dana-Farber using Ibrutinib which avoided cancer patients from needing to be hospitalised.
There is also the example of my Oncologist, Dr Abdul Kadir Slocum (I was diagnosed with stage-four cancer at the end of 2018. Dr Slocum cured me by traditional chemotherapy, alternate wellness remedies.
As Dr. Slocum recently wrote to us:
“I’m not a frontline Covid physician but unfortunately when some of our cancer patients got Covid I treated them together with my colleagues. We used anti-coagulants, antibiotics, and anti-virals as conventional therapeutics together with high dose vitamin C, Andrographis, thyme extract etc. as complementary therapies and all of our patients have gotten better with such treatment.”
The low fatality rate for those who are healthy and not old, the limitations of the virus’s spread, and the improvements in testing and treatment, means that we have the opportunity to return to (almost) normal, albeit with robust measures in place to protect vulnerable groups.
The importance of protecting vulnerable groups should not be taken lightly. Let me flash back to 1979, when I was 13. My morning ritual with my father was to drive to the local tennis club and play a game before breakfast. On that particular morning, halfway through play, my father sat down, short of breath. He asked me to practice against the wall while he recovered his breath. An hour later, he died of a heart attack. To this day, I wonder whether if we had skipped that morning ritual, he wouldn’t have died. The worry that one might have had an impact on reducing the life of one’s parent is something that I would not want to wish on anyone else. We must not make a similar mistake over coronavirus, as we reopen our economies we must consider adequate protection for older and vulnerable people.
How do we start on the road to recovery? To start with, we should maintain the personal hygiene habits that the virus has taught us, such as frequently washing hands, and following the traditional Asian courtesy of wearing a mask if you feel unwell. These habits will also reduce the incidence of other viruses such as seasonal flus and colds.
Above all, new investments in health infrastructure put in place over the past 12 weeks, such as more hospital capacity, extensive and rapid testing, and sophisticated contact tracing, means that blunt control tools, such as lockdowns, can now be relaxed before they destroy ever larger parts of the economy.
Then, we just need to work on our fear, which, in the final analysis, may have caused more damage than the virus itself.
Editor’s Note: This op-ed was originally published on Linkedin by Sonu Shivdasani. Sonu is the founder and CEO of Soneva, which owns luxury resorts Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani in the Maldives, and Soneva Kiri in Thailand.
Abdulla Wisam: A journey of excellence and growth in the Maldivian hospitality industry
In the heart of the stunning Maldives, where luxury resorts and crystal-clear waters come together to create a paradise on Earth, there are individuals who work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that every guest’s experience is nothing short of exceptional. One such individual is Abdulla Wisam, whose remarkable journey in the hospitality industry is a testament to his dedication, passion, and unwavering commitment to providing the best possible service to guests.
Abdulla Wisam’s journey in the hospitality industry began right after completing his schooling. In 2003, he embarked on his professional career by joining Dhoveli Beach Resort & Spa, where he gained his first taste of the world of hospitality. It was here that he discovered his passion for creating memorable guest experiences and building relationships with visitors from around the world.
After his initial foray into the industry, Wisam’s career path continued to evolve. His dedication and hard work caught the attention of industry leaders, leading him to take on roles of increasing responsibility. His time at Meeru Island Resort saw him as an Outlet Cashier and Night Auditor, roles that allowed him to develop a deep understanding of the operational aspects of a resort.
Wisam’s determination and eagerness to learn led him to the iconic Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, where he started as a Recreation Attendant. Over time, he showcased his exceptional skills in guest relations and management, and he was promoted to the position of Front Office Supervisor. His journey with Four Seasons served as a stepping stone for what was to come next.
In 2014, Wisam joined the W Maldives, a resort known for its luxurious offerings and unparalleled guest experiences. Starting as a Welcome Team Leader, he quickly rose through the ranks due to his impeccable guest service skills and innate leadership abilities. His promotion to Guest Experience Manager was a testament to his ability to not only meet but exceed guest expectations. He was then transferred to The St. Regis Maldives as the Assistant Front Office Manager with the pre-opening team.
As his career trajectory continued its upward trajectory, Wisam took on the role of Front Office Manager at prestigious resorts such as Milaidhoo Island, Raffles Maldives, and The Standard Maldives. These roles allowed him to refine his management style, hone his problem-solving skills, and contribute to the overall success of each resort.
Wisam’s journey eventually led him to COMO Cocoa Island, a resort renowned for its unparalleled luxury and exquisite attention to detail. Joining as the Front Office Manager, he embraced the challenges and responsibilities that came with the position. His dedication, combined with his innate ability to create genuine connections with guests, led to his promotion as the Director of Rooms.
Wisam’s journey in the Maldivian hospitality industry is a remarkable tale of perseverance, growth, and a genuine passion for creating exceptional guest experiences. His diverse roles, spanning from recreation to guest experience management, have equipped him with a holistic understanding of the industry. His commitment to continuous improvement and dedication to delivering top-tier service have not only benefited the resorts he’s been a part of but have also contributed to elevating the reputation of Maldives as a premier luxury travel destination.
As Wisam continues to shape the guest experience landscape at COMO Cocoa Island, one can only imagine the heights he will reach and the impact he will make on the ever-evolving hospitality industry of the Maldives. His journey stands as an inspiration to aspiring hoteliers and a testament to the boundless opportunities that await those who are truly passionate about their craft.
A remarkable tale of wanderlust: Naito Takashi’s 103rd journey to the Maldives
The azure waters of the Maldives have long been a magnet for travelers seeking paradise on Earth. Among these wanderers, one name stands out – Naito Takashi, a Japanese tourist whose boundless enthusiasm for the Maldives has led him to visit this tropical haven a staggering 103 times. His unwavering love for this island nation, coupled with its mesmerizing beauty, has turned his visits into a remarkable testament to the allure of the Maldives.
For the past 24 years, Naito Takashi has visited Maldives between three to five times annually, embarking on a journey that has spanned more than two decades. His tale is one of dedication, passion, and a deep-rooted connection with the captivating landscapes that the Maldives offers. Each visit is not just a vacation; it’s a renewal of his profound relationship with the natural wonders that have captured his heart.
Naito Takashi’s 103rd arrival to the Maldives was met with a warm and heartfelt welcome from none other than the Tourism Minister himself, Dr. Abdulla Mausoom. This gesture symbolizes the deep appreciation the Maldivian people have for their loyal and devoted visitors. The ceremony held aboard the M/V Blue of the Fun Azul Fleet was a fitting tribute to a traveler who has become an honorary ambassador of the Maldives.
The M/V Blue, Fun Azul Fleet, holds special significance for Naito Takashi. As an avid diver, he has found his perfect companion in this cruise boat specialized in diving charters. The vessel offers schedules tailored to explore the best dive spots around the Maldives’ islands, making it an ideal partner for a diving enthusiast like Naito Takashi. The crystal-clear waters of the Maldives have witnessed countless underwater escapades orchestrated by this intrepid traveler.
The Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism has lauded Naito Takashi’s enduring passion for the nation’s beauty. Their tweet acknowledging his multiple visits serves as a testament to his unique and cherished relationship with the country. He has witnessed the ever-changing landscape of the Maldives, from its pristine beaches to its vibrant marine life, and has undoubtedly contributed to the thriving tourism industry.
Naito Takashi’s story also reflects the profound impact that travel can have on an individual’s life. His unwavering commitment to exploring the Maldives has not only enriched his own experiences but has also brought attention to the natural wonders of Maldives. It stands as a reminder that the act of traveling is not just about ticking off destinations from a bucket list; it’s about forming connections, fostering appreciation, and creating lasting memories.
As Naito Takashi continues his journey through the Maldives, his story resonates as an inspiration to fellow travelers and a tribute to the unyielding allure of this island paradise. His 103rd visit is not just a numerical milestone; it’s a celebration of an extraordinary bond between a traveler and a destination, a bond that has grown stronger with each passing year and promises to endure for years to come.
Amari Raaya Maldives opens its gates to paradise
In a grand celebration of luxury and nature’s wonders, Amari Raaya Maldives resort has officially opened its doors, welcoming its first guests to experience a slice of paradise in the Maldives. The exclusive event was attended by the resort’s management team, as well as Atul Chordia, Chairman of Panchshil Realty, the developer behind this magnificent project.
Nestled on a pristine natural island in the heart of the Maldives’ Raa Atoll, Amari Raaya promises to be a sanctuary for travelers seeking an unforgettable escape amidst the archipelago’s breathtaking beauty. From the moment guests arrived via Manta Air seaplane, they were greeted with warm hospitality and a taste of Maldivian culture, as they were presented with traditional cultural items and treated to mesmerizing Maldivian dances.
Atul Chordia, the visionary behind Panchshil Realty, and Yuthachai Charanachitta ONYX Hospitality Group’s CEO marked the official opening of the resort by cutting the ribbon, signifying the culmination of a labor of love and dedication to creating a unique haven for luxury travelers.
With 187 villas offering a variety of luxurious experiences, Amari Raaya ensures that every guest’s stay is truly exceptional. Visitors can choose from an array of accommodation options, including the Beach Villas, Beach Pool Villas, and interconnecting Family Beach Villas, perfect for creating cherished memories with loved ones.
For those seeking unparalleled luxury and seclusion, the Ocean Villas and Ocean Pool Villas provide panoramic views of the azure waters teeming with marine life. Sunset enthusiasts can revel in the breathtaking beauty of the Maldivian dusk from the privacy of their villas, opting for the Sunset Ocean Villas or Sunset Ocean Pool Villas, promising an unforgettable experience.
Amari Raaya Maldives goes beyond offering captivating villas; it has curated an extraordinary culinary journey for its guests. With eight distinct dining options, visitors can embark on a gastronomic adventure that caters to every palate. From the signature Amaya Food Gallery, serving famous street food and hawker delights, to the rooftop bar Ampers&nd, where guests can savor sunset snacks and cocktails, the resort promises to delight all epicureans. Poolside Italian favorites, freshly caught seafood infused with Maldivian and Asian flavors, and the fun and playful experience of enjoying mobile snacks and drinks served from a bus all add to the culinary magic of the resort.
In the evenings, guests can find a sense of community and immerse themselves in the local culture through live music, traditional Boduberu nights, and regular cultural events and festivities, making every moment at Amari Raaya Maldives an enriching and memorable one.
Amari Raaya Maldives is developed by Panchshil Realty, a name synonymous with excellence in luxury real estate in India. The resort is managed by Onyx Hospitality, renowned for its exceptional and personalized hospitality experiences.
With its official opening, Amari Raaya Maldives invites travelers from around the world to discover the allure of the Maldives in unparalleled comfort and style. As guests arrive at this oasis of luxury and natural splendor, they are sure to find themselves enchanted by the timeless beauty of the islands and immersed in an experience that will linger in their hearts forever.
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