Russia’s Aeroflot resumes Maldives flights with twice weekly service
Aeroflot on Friday resumed scheduled passenger flights to the Maldives.
The Russian flag carrier’s first flight after a three-month-long suspension of operations due to lockdowns imposed by both Russian and Maldivian authorities to contain the coronavirus outbreak landed at the Maldives’ main Velana International Airport Friday afternoon.
Aeroflot will operate two services per week between Moscow and Male, on the following schedule:
- Flight SU0322: Sheremetyevo – Male, on Thursdays and Sundays.
- Flight SU0323: Male – Sheremetyevo, on Fridays and Sundays.
Flights between Russia and the Maldives have been resumed under a Russian government directive, which allowed three flights a week to Cairo, as well as two flights a week to Dubai and the Maldives.
International flights from Russia were grounded on March 30 after the imposition of lockdown measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than a million people in Russia.
In June, Russia announced a partial reopening of its borders, saying it would allow people who needed to work, study, get medical treatment or look after relatives to travel abroad.
Other flights bringing home Russians stranded abroad continued while international flights were on hold.
Russia continues to report thousands of new Covid-19 infections daily. Its nationwide tally is 1,051,874, the fourth-highest in the world, with 18,365 deaths.
Resuming flights between Moscow and Male will be a major boost to the Maldives’ efforts to revive the country’s tourism-dependent economy after reopening its borders on July 15.
Tourism promotion authorities in Maldives have also launched an advertising campaign on a leading TV channel in Russia.
Russian tourists accounted for over 74,000 or close to five per cent of Maldives’ foreign visitors last year, the sixth biggest market after China, India, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Before the current coronavirus pandemic, Aeroflot was operating daily flights between Moscow Sheremetyevo and Velana International Airport in Male.
With the border reopening, 30-day free on-arrival visa is issued to all tourists with a confirmed booking for a stay at any registered tourist facility in the country.
There is no mandatory quarantine or testing on arrival, but tourists have to complete an online health declaration form and provide a negative PCR test result taken at least 72 hours prior to their departure.
Visitors with symptoms of the Covid-19 respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus or those travelling with someone who has similar symptoms are also 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.
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 8,990.
Thirty-one deaths have been reported, while 6,846 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.