Maldives could be on UK’s next ‘air bridge’ list as quarantine requirement under ‘review’

Maldives could be included on a second list of ‘air bridge’ countries as the British government considers permitting UK travellers to visit more destinations, including the Indian Ocean tourist paradise, without needing to self-isolate on their return to Britain.

The British foreign office lifted its warning against trips to 66 destinations last week, and announced ‘travel corridors’ with 59 countries where quarantine rules, from Friday, no longer apply.

The two lists, which the British government says are determined by a variety of factors, including infection rate, are under constant review, and edits made to the foreign office website this week suggest a new batch of exemptions for one or both is being prepared.

An amendment to the travel advice page of more than a dozen countries, including the Maldives, reads: “Editorial review to remove ‘Return to the UK’ section and improve ‘Coronavirus’ section.”

This suggests the Maldives — a hotspot hugely popular with British holidaymakers — with the amendment could soon welcome UK tourists without the need to self-isolate on return.

The UK’s decision to leave the Maldives out of the list of countries that it considers safe enough for travel without coronavirus-related restrictions caused concerns among the island nation’s travel trade professionals.

If unchanged, 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.

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.

“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,” high commissioner Caron Röhsler said, in a statement issued last week.

The new development comes as the Maldives prepares to reopen its borders on July 15.

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 2,553.

Thireen deaths have been reported and 2,229 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 easing now in effect.

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