Over 13k foreigners leave Maldives over coronavirus fears

Maldives has repatriated more than 13,000 foreigners — mostly migrant workers — stranded in the island nation due to the travel restrictions stemming from the global coronavirus pandemic.

Figures released by the immigration department on Saturday show that the most number of evacuees — 10,879 — were from Asian countries: 3,3384 Indias, 2,924 Bangladeshis, 808 Indonesians, 350 Thais, 336 Filipinos and 291 Sri Lankans.

European countries have also evacuated 2,091 of their citizens from the Maldives.

Another 41 that belong to African nations have also left the Maldives.

Bangladeshis and Indians make up the majority of the migrant worker population in Maldives.

They have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus outbreak in the Maldives. Bangladeshi workers make up the majority of virus cases in country.

The confirmed local transmission clusters in the Maldives now include 1,065 Bangladeshis, 701 Maldivians, 191 Indians, 26 Nepalis, 11 Sri Lankans and three Pakistanis.

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 2,013.

Eight deaths have been reported and 1,217 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.

The restrictions in the capital region are now being eased in phases, with the second phase kicking in from Monday and lasting at least until June end.

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