Maldives reopens to all global travellers, no restrictions

A scheduled passenger flight touched down at the Maldives main airport Wednesday morning, marking the reopening of the country’s borders for visitors after more than three months.

On March 27, the Maldives closed its borders as part of a series of unprecedented measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Since then, flight movement has been restricted to only cargo freighters and repatriation flights.

The Qatar Airways A350 aircraft landed at the Velana International Airport at 8.33am Wednesday with 131 passengers — mostly foreigners employed in the Maldives and Maldivians stranded abroad due to travel restrictions imposed by countries around the world.

A water salute was given as the aircraft approached the taxiway.

Transport minister Aishath Nahula, acting tourism minister Fayyaz Ismail, acting managing director of airport operator Moosa Solih and other industry stakeholders welcomed the passengers.

A SriLankan Airlines flight arriving in the afternoon will be the only other passenger service on Wednesday.

‘New normal’ for airlines, airport

Ahead of the reopening, ‘new normal’ measures were introduced at the Velana International Airport.

Blue markers, spaced three feet apart, are in place in front of ticketing and check-in counters, and at the pre-flight inspection zone in the international terminal, as well as in front of the check-in counters in the domestic terminal.

Glass separators of four feet have also been installed in between all check-in counters.

The social distancing measures are complemented by added hygiene and safety measures, including daily disinfection of all seats, desks, lounge areas, ticketing and check-in counters, and flooring and airport tarmac area.

Meanwhile, airlines operating flights to the Maldives were told to ensure passengers wear face masks on-board at all times.

Exceptions can be made for passengers below six years of age and those who have a medical reason for not covering their face. Masks can be removed for eating and drinking, taking oral medication, or on the directions of a crew member.

Crew members must advise passengers to replace their mask when it becomes wet or soiled.

All passengers should complete an online health declaration form before arrival and departure.

Before departure, all passengers will have to fulfil the health requirements of their onward destination. This includes coronavirus tests, if required.

Which airlines are flying?

Only Qatar Airways, SriLakan Airlines, Emirates and Etihad have confirmed scheduled services to the Maldives in July.

From Wednesday, SriLankan Airlines will offer three weekly services between Colombo and Male. The neighbouring Sri Lanka’s flag carrier will use a 297-seater A333 jet on two of its three services and a 188-seater A321 aircraft for the remaining flight.

Starting Wednesday, Qatar Airways will operate a daily flight from Doha to Male. The airline will use a 132-seater A320 jet for the direct service, which is scheduled to continue until October 24.

Emirates will resume scheduled operations to the Maldives on Thursday, with a 360-seater B777 aircraft serving the Dubai-Male-Dubai route on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays until August end.

From July 18-28, Etihad will operate a 136-seater A320 jet between Abu Dhabi and Male every Tuesday and Saturday.

Singapore Airlines will operate a daily service to Male from August 1 to October 24 using a 337-seater B781 aircraft. Its regional wing SilkAir will complement the Singapore-Male-Singapore route during the period by offering twice a day service that uses a 167-seater B738 jet.

From August 1 to October 24, Hong Kong Airlines will fly to the Maldives on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. A 294-seater A330 jet will be used for the direct service between Hong Kong and Male.

Gulf Air will resume its operations to the Maldives on August 2, with two services — the second arriving via Colombo but departing to Bahrain from Male — on every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday until October 24. From August 5 to October 21, a third service will be operated via Colombo on every Wednesday. The airline will use a 150-seater A320 aircraft for all of its services.

From August 10 to October 24, IndiGo will operate two daily services to the Maldives, offering direct connections to the Maldivian capital from the Indian cities of Mumbai and Cochin. The Indian budget carrier will use a 180-seater A320 aircraft for both the services.

From September 24 to October 22, Edelweiss will operate a direct flight between Zurich and Male on every Thursday, while a Sunday flight will be added to the route from September 27 to October 18. The airline will use a 314-seater A343 aircraft for the two services.

Turkish Airlines will resume its operations to the Maldives on October 1, with two services — the second arriving via Colombo but departing to Istanbul from Male — on every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday until October 23. Turkey’s flag carrier will deploy a 289-seater A333 aircraft for the two services.

From October 2-23, Edelweiss will operate another flight on the Zurich-Male-Zurich route on every Friday. As its two services scheduled to start in September, Edelweiss will use a 314-seater A343 aircraft for the October service.

No quarantine, free on-arrival visa

According to guidelines released by the Maldives tourism ministry, resorts and hotels on uninhabited islands as well as liveaboard vessels can begin hosting tourists right away (please see a rolling list of resort reopenings here).

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.

Is Maldives safe?

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 2,801.

Fourteen deaths have been reported and 2,302 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.

Cover Photo: Sun Online

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