Tourism revival gets boost as Germany omits Maldives from virus risk countries

Maldives has been excluded from a list of destinations the German government considers as coronavirus risk areas, raising hopes that the Maldives may soon begin seeing visitors from one of its oldest and most important tourist source markets.

The list, which was published for the first time on Monday by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and is now being regularly updated, includes popular destinations for Germans to visit such as Turkey, Egypt, Thailand and Morocco, as well as several US states including California and New York.

A country is considered to be risky if there are more than 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants within a week.

But even if the infection rate is lower, a country can be declared a problem region if there is a lack of testing capacity or insufficient measures to contain the outbreak.

Anyone entering Germany from a risk area will be ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Maldives is among the few countries in the world, and the only country from the region that is not on the list,” the Maldivian tourism minister Ali Waheed said, on Twitter.

“Together we will prevail.”

Despite being excluded from the list, a blanket travel warning for non-European countries still remains in place until the end of August.

It means Germans are discouraged from travelling to all non-EU countries, and they have to complete a mandatory 14-day quarantine if travelling to Germany.

Germany is one of the key traditional source markets for the Maldives tourism industry.

Arrivals from Germany saw 11.9 per cent year-over-year increase in 2019, as the number of Germans that holidayed in the Maldives rose to 131,561 — 7.7 per cent of the total arrivals — from 117,532 in 2018. This growth enabled Germany to retain its position as the fourth biggest source market.

The Maldives is preparing to reopen its borders to visitors in July.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 2,150.

Eight deaths have been reported and 1,769 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.

The restrictions are now being eased in phases, with the second phase lasting at least until June end.

Photo: The Maldives stand at ITB Berlin 2019. FILE PHOTO/ MMPRC

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