Maldives reopens guesthouses in outer atolls after six months

Guesthouses located in outer atolls reopened Thursday after more than six months of closure in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

But guesthouses in Male and its suburbs remain closed as the capital region is still battling with a community spread of the virus.

Tourism minister Dr Abdulla Mausoom travelled to the island of Maafushi in Kaafu atoll Thursday morning to welcome the first group of visitors that arrived in the country to stay in a local island after the border reopening in July.

Tourism ministry said 22 guesthouses in 12 islands reopened Thursday. The islands which have so far allowed guesthouses to resume operations include:

  • Hanimaadhoo in Haa Dhaalu Atoll
  • Narudhoo in Shaviyani Atoll
  • Fohdhdoo in Noonu Atoll
  • Maafushi and Huraa in Kaafu Atoll
  • Mathiveri and Ukulhas in Alif Alif Atoll
  • Thinadhoo, Fulidhoo and Keyodhoo in Vaavu Atoll
  • Gaadhiffushi in Thaa Atoll

Health authorities had in March imposed a nationwide shut down of all guesthouses and city hotels, as part of a series of drastic measures aimed at containing the novel coronavirus outbreak.

With the reopening of guesthouses, permits are being issued based on consent from respective island councils.

Guesthouses also have to meet requirements set by the national Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the Health Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC).

The Maldives reopened its borders on July 15.

Resorts and hotels on uninhabited islands as well as liveaboard vessels were allowed to host tourists (please see a rolling list of resort reopenings here).

Guesthouses and hotels located on inhabited islands were to be allowed to reopen on August 1 but a surge in coronavirus cases in capital Male forced the authorities to extend a ban on guesthouse operations.

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 96 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 11,062.

Thirty-five deaths have been reported, while 9,880 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.

The restrictions are now being eased in phases, with the third phase measures now active.

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