Maldives enters ‘new normal’ as crushing lockdown ends

Maldives on Monday lifted a crushing lockdown on its capital region 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 were extended several times.

The lockdown banned 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 were also banned.

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

Movement restrictions in the capital region were lifted altogether on Monday except for a nightly curfew from 10pm to 5am.

But children and elderly have to follow set timings during the transitional phase, which runs until the end of June, with children only allowed outside daily from 4-6pm and elderly from 5-8am. Outdoor exercise is also restricted to 6-9pm.

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

Parks and public places, as well as local markets have been opened under HPA guidelines and with hand hygiene measures.

General businesses 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 are allowed to provide takeaway and delivery service only.

Face masks are 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 is permitted. But travel to and from capital Male, the epicentre of the outbreak, is only 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.

Nationwide restrictions lifted

Meanwhile, separate lockdown measures specifically for outside the greater Male region have also been lifted.

The measures included a ban on inter-island transport across the archipelago of 1,192 coral islands.

Public gatherings, including ceremonies and parties of all kinds, sporting events, and picnics in the islands, were also covered under the ban.

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 2,035.

Eight deaths have been reported and 1,311 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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