Maldives gets $50 mln from ADB for coronavirus response

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $25 million concessional loan and a $25 million grant to help the Maldives fund its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Covid-19 Active Response and Expenditure Support (CARES) programme is funded through the Covid-19 pandemic response option (CPRO) under ADB’s Countercyclical Support Facility.

CPRO was established as part of ADB’s $20 billion expanded assistance for developing member countries’ Covid-19 response, which was announced on April 13.

The CARES programme for Maldives will help implement the government’s Covid-19 health response measures through actions, such as setting up testing facilities in five regional hospitals across five zones, scaling up of testing capacity to 800 tests per day, providing at least 400 isolation beds in separate wards for men and women, and at least 200 critical care beds for treatment.

ADB’s financing will support the government in carrying out its social protection programme, which includes unemployment allowances to salaried employees and self-employed workers whose incomes are affected by job or work loss, and other social assistance to the vulnerable population.

It will also help the government in providing economic assistance to the self-employed and businesses with subsidised and collateral-free working capital loans during the crisis period.

To support the CARES programme’s implementation and help build the government’s capacity in monitoring and evaluating the activities under its Covid-19 response package, ADB is also providing a $500,000 grant for technical assistance.

ADB has earlier provided two grants — $500,000 and $798,000 — to the Maldives to procure medical supplies, in close collaboration with UNICEF. This grant has funded the purchase of urgently needed personal protective equipment to enable medical personnel to safely treat infected patients.

“ADB is strongly committed to assisting Maldives in mitigating the adverse socioeconomic and health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic,” ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa was quoted in a statement, as saying.

“We will provide critically needed budget support to help the government undertake its health, social, and economic responses, which are essential to strengthen the country’s public health systems, support the poor and vulnerable groups, and provide economic support for affected businesses.”

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.

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.

The government is in talks with bilateral lenders and international financial institutions to procure some $290 million in loans and financial aid.

In the meantime, the government will borrow MVR 4.2 billion ($272 million) under an overdraft facility at the central bank to cover state expenses and maintain public services amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The government is also trying to shave MVR 5 billion ($324 million) off state expenditure and reduce the total state expenditure for the year to MVR 30 billion ($1.944 billion) from the approved MVR 38.7 billion ($2.5 billion).

Austerity measures include a 20 per cent cut on salaries and allowances of all political appointees, 25-35 per cent cuts on salaries and allowances of public sector employees, and 30-70 per cent cuts across travel, training, renovations and capital equipment budgets.

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 2,277.

Eight deaths have been reported and 1,848 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.

The Maldives will also reopen its borders on July 15.

Photo: A file photo shows Maldivian president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (R) meeting with the then ADB president Takehiko Nakao at the President’s Office in Maldivian capital Male on August 27, 2019. FILE PHOTO/ PRESIDENT’S OFFICE

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