Soneva-funded lab at Maldives airport licensed to offer tourists coronavirus tests
A laboratory to test tourists for the novel coronavirus at an international airport in an ultra-luxury tourism zone in the northern part of Maldives has been commissioned.
Soneva, which owns luxury resorts in the Maldives, funded the set-up at the airport located on the island of Maafaru in Noonu atoll.
ADK Trade and Shipping was contracted to build the Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) lab.
“The new PCR lab at Maafaru International Airport is fully commissioned and ready for operation,” ADK Trade and Shipping said, in an announcement.
“This project we undertook for Soneva Hotels took us 30 days to complete from ordering equipment, physical infrastructure construction to final set-up.”
Soneva currently runs two resorts in the Maldives: Soneva Fushi in Baa atoll and Soneva Jani in Noonu atoll. The world-leading luxury resort operator also operates luxury yacht Soneva in Aqua in Maldives, and Soneva Kiri resort in Thailand.
Despite a lab being established at the Maafaru airport, tests will be voluntary.
When the Maldives reopens its borders on July 15, 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.
Meanwhile, airport operator Island Aviation Services (IAS) is readying the Maafaru airport for international arrivals.
The Abdu Dhabi-funded international airport was specifically developed to cater to high net worth individuals who want to arrive there directly and travel to one of the ultra-luxury resorts in the atoll for their holiday.
But the airport lacked the required equipment, as well as customs and immigration capabilities to handle international arrivals.
Aviation authorities in Maldives are exploring the possibility of allowing private jets to directly land at airports other than the main airport, as the island nation anticipates luxury travellers to be the first to visit when it reopens its borders.
Velana International Airport is the main port of entry for private jets at the moment, but once cleared they can fly to other airports that can cater to private jets.
The government has not singled out the other airports being considered for private jet landing, but it is likely that the Maafaru airport will be permitted to cater to jets.
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 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 2,501.
Twelve deaths have been reported and 2,158 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 measures now active.