Maldives again left off UK’s safe travel list

Britain has decided to persist with a quarantine regime for travellers from Maldives, which has dealt a blow to the tourism-dependant country’s hopes of reviving its economy after reopening its borders earlier this month.

It was this month left off an initial list of more than 50 countries Britain considered safe enough for travel without coronavirus-related restrictions, and left off again when London updated the list on Friday, adding more countries including the Maldives’ neighbour Sri Lanka.

The need for holidaymakers returning to Britain from the Maldives to quarantine for 14 days has affected the Indian Ocean tourist paradise, popular among Britons for its sandy beaches and tropical climate.

The initial move by Britain to leave off the Maldives from the so-called ‘air bridge’ list was met with criticism and concerns among travel trade professionals in the Maldives.

Amid those concerns, 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.

Caron Röhsler, the British high commissioner in Male, expressed “hope that the Maldives will soon meet the UK’s conditions required for an easing of travel advice and border measures.”

The encouraging comments by British officials in Male were followed by a review of the UK foreign office’s travel advisory for the Maldives, giving hopes to British travellers and Maldivian tourism stakeholders that the archipelago could soon begin welcoming Britons without the need to self-isolate on return.

Meanwhile, Britain’s decision to persist with the quarantine regime comes just over a week after the Maldives reopened its borders to visitors.

Brits lead the arrival numbers for the first 10 days since the border reopening, with 117 holidaymakers from the UK arriving in the Maldives for a much needed tropical getaway after crushing lockdowns in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Travel firm Kuoni has revealed that travellers in the UK were planning to splash out on luxury Christmas overseas trips after settling for summer staycations, with demand for year-end getaways in Maldives on the arise.

Bookings for 2021 trips to the Maldives are also on the rise.

Recent Google search data has also shown the Maldives as the top holiday destination among Europeans for next year.

With the border reopening, 30-day free on-arrival visa is issued to all tourists who has 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 is no mandatory quarantine or testing on arrival. Tourists have to complete a health declaration form only.

But visitors with symptoms of the Covid-19 respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus or those travelling with someone who has similar symptoms are tested at their own expense.

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.

Meanwhile, the government’s best case scenario now puts total tourist arrivals for 2020 just above 800,000. 

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 3,252.

Fifteen deaths have been reported, while 2,534 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.

Photo: Kanuhura Maldives

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