UK ‘hopes’ Maldives will soon meet quarantine-free travel conditions

Britain on Saturday expressed hope that the Maldives will soon meet the conditions required to end a quarantine regime for travellers coming from the Indian Ocean tourist paradise.

Maldives was left off a list of more than 50 countries that Britain considers safe enough for travel without coronavirus-related restrictions, meaning holidaymakers returning from the island nation would have to quarantine for 14 days.

That will be a major deterrent for British tourists, who accounted for 126,199 or 7.4 per cent of Maldives’ foreign visitors last year, the fifth biggest market after China, India, Italy and Germany.

Britain’s foreign ministry also set out exemptions from a global advisory against “all but essential” international travel, from July 4, a key to normal insurance being valid.

Maldives was not included among the countries and territories exempt from advice against “all but essential” international travel either — meaning that the British government considers the island nation posing an “unacceptably high risk for British travellers”.

Amid concerns by the Maldives’ tourism industry, the British high commission in Maldives said the list was part of a gradual and ongoing process of opening up global travel and would be reviewed from time to time.

The UK recognises the great importance of tourism to the Maldives economy, and the popularity of Maldives as one of the top five long-haul destinations among Brits, it added.

“I have remained in Maldives throughout the pandemic and seen the tremendous work done to respond to Covid by the government of Maldives, health workers and other public services directly involved, and the tourism industry. Testing, tracing and containment have been efficient, and tourists affected have been well looked-after,” high commissioner Caron Röhsler was quoted in a statement, as saying.

According to the high commission, countries were added to the list based on a range of requirements, including the prevalence of the virus.

Other conditions considered include entry requirements, local restrictions, availability of transport options, quarantine requirements and the local healthcare capacity, the high commission said.

“I hope that the Maldives will soon meet the UK’s conditions required for an easing of travel advice and border measures, and am grateful to the government for providing high-quality and detailed information on the situation, and on plans to reopen to tourists from July 15 that were agreed by the tourism industry,” Röhsler said.

“What is vital now is that the measures in place to control the virus remain robust and succeed in ensuring that the downward trajectory of cases continues, and is not reversed, as measures ease further.”

Britain’s move, effective July 10, clears the way for millions of British tourists to take summer holidays without worrying about being quarantined when they return. Those arriving from higher risk countries will still have to self-quarantine for 14 days under a rule which has angered airlines and travel companies.

The move is a major blow to the Maldives, as it prepares to reopen its borders on July 15.

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 also 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.

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 2,410.

Ten deaths have been reported and 1,976 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.

The restrictions are now being eased in phases, with the third phase kicking in from Wednesday.

Photo: British high commissioner to the Maldives Caron Röhsler (L) hands over her credentials to Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih at a ceremony held at the President’s Office in Maldivian capital Male on October 30, 2019. FILE PHOTO/ PRESIDENT’S OFFICE

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