Maldives, China agree on ‘fast lane’ to bypass quarantine for returning Chinese tourists
Maldives and China will launch a ‘fast lane’ for travellers between the two countries next month, the island nation’s president announced Tuesday.
The so-called fast lane arrangement will enable Chinese travellers to fly back home from the Maldives without having to serve quarantine periods of up to 14 days after their return.
Instead, they must take a Covid-19 swab test 48 hours before departure from the Maldives and after they land in China.
Maldivian president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih told reporters Tuesday that the ‘fast lane’ arrangement will come into effect when the Indian Ocean tourist paradise reopens its borders on July 15.
The Chinese government is setting up a testing facility at the Maldives main Velana International Airport with the capacity of 1,000 tests per day, he said.
Solih stressed that his government will explore similar arrangements with other countries as well.
“We are reopening our borders to visitors from all nationalities. We are also making arrangements to accommodate requirements of individual countries,” he said.
China has initiated similar fast lane arrangements with several Asian destinations like Singapore and South Korea.
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 2,120.
Eight deaths have been reported and 1,677 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.