Maldives confident most airlines will resume scheduled flights in July-Aug

A majority of international airlines that operated scheduled flights to the Maldives before the coronavirus pandemic will resume their operations in July, the island nation’s tourism minister announced Wednesday.

The Maldives is preparing to reopen its borders on July 15.

Ali Waheed told reporters that 11 airlines had reserved slots from the main Velana International Airport for July even before the border reopening date was finalised.

“We are in talks with the airlines that operated regular services to the Maldives. Most of them will recommence operations in July. The remaining have also assured us that operations will resume in August,” he said.

Waheed said at least three airlines will begin scheduled service on July 15.

He, however, did not disclose the details.

Officials from the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), which runs the Velana International Airport, had earlier said that SriLankan Airlines was planning to operate three daily flights between Colombo and Male as soon as the borders were reopened.

Qatar Airways also had plans to fly once a day on the Doha-Male sector, MACL officials had said.

According to MACL, other airlines that had applied for slots for July include:

  • Emirates: one daily
  • Etihad Airways: twice a week
  • Hong Kong Airlines: twice a week
  • IndiGo: two daily
  • Singapore Airlines: one daily
  • Silk Air: two daily
  • Turkish Airlines: five days a week, two services per day

With the borders reopening on July 15, resorts and hotels on uninhabited islands as well as liveaboard vessels can begin hosting tourists right away.

Guesthouses and hotels located on inhabited islands will be allowed to reopen on August 1. Passengers on cruise ships and yachts will be barred from disembarking at inhabited islands until then.

Thirty-day free on-arrival visa will be issued to all tourists with a confirmed booking for a stay at any registered tourist facility in the country. The entire holiday has to be booked at a single facility except for transit arrangements.

There will be no mandatory quarantine or testing on arrival. Tourists will only have to complete a health declaration form.

But visitors with symptoms of the Covid-19 respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus or those travelling with someone who has similar symptoms will be tested at their expense.

The coronavirus outbreak has hit the Maldivian economy hard, as travel restrictions and other preventive measures affected the country’s lucrative tourism industry, which contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.

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, only 382,760 tourists visited the Maldives before the country closed its borders on March 27. It was a 40.8 per cent decline over the 646,092 that visited the Maldives from January to March last year.

With arrival numbers falling, several resorts across the Maldives suspended operations.

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 2,260.

Eight deaths have been reported and 1,836 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.

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