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Covid-19 has upended life in the Maldives. In a March 25 press conference, President Solih announced that the country was in a state of lockdown and all on-arrival visas would be cancelled beginning March 27, 2020. He also extended the closure of government offices, schools, and universities until April 5, 2020.
Pres Solih: Certain decisions made does hinder normal life, but these decisions are made for the safety of everyone. We are implementing more decisions based on the situation. Starting next Sunday, Government Offices, Schools and Colleges will be closed for an extra week.
— Muallim Ibrahim (@Muallimsays) March 25, 2020
Pres Solih: Starting March 27th, we will stop issuing on-arrival visa to foreigners. Resorts will be placed on quarantine for 14 days after the last tourists leave. Even though those positive are recovering, we must not consider this as a situation where it will not spread more.
— Muallim Ibrahim (@Muallimsays) March 25, 2020
On March 17, all government offices except emergency services, the courts, media, and financial institutions were ordered to close from March 19 to 26 to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. The president also stated that the country was fully prepared for a worst-case scenario by installing 200 ICU beds. However, as the country is dependent on income from tourism, netizens are questioning whether the Maldives can afford the lockdown.
Timeline of the outbreak
The first cases were detected in two foreign nationals working at a tourist resort on March 7. Both of the cases had been in contact with an Italian tourist who tested positive for the virus after returning to Italy. The number of infections has now risen to 13. Of those, eight have recovered.
As the global travel industry comes to a grinding halt, countries that are totally dependent on tourism are feeling the immense economic strain as tourist arrivals are reduced to a trickle. More than 50 resorts have already closed down temporarily due to the decline in visitors. Workers also have suffered a pay cut.
The government declared a health emergency on March 12 for 30 days while the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has introduced sweeping measures including a ban on guesthouses on inhabited islands from accepting tourists. The HPA has banned workers in resorts from travelling to and from the resorts, and dine-in services in cafes and restaurants in the capital, Malé, were stopped.
Residents of Malé, a tiny island of less than 2 square kilometres and home to 150,000 people, are being encouraged to stay indoors as much as possible.
Hats off #Maldives No Lockdown, No Curfew yet people respect the government announcement to stay at home. #StaySafe #Covid_19 #COVID19 #CoronaCrisis #coronavirus pic.twitter.com/9iXrmwde2l
— Fawzan Fareid (@fawzie_UL) March 20, 2020
The azan today in Male’ , #Maldives was changed due to the coronavirus.
instead of “hayya alas-salah” (come to prayer), the muadhin says “al-salatu fi buyutikum” (pray in your homes).
May Allah protect us all and allow us to go back to his house soon inshaAllah. pic.twitter.com/KYvKCt2kOF
— Qibla (@QiblaMv) March 18, 2020
Impact on the economy
Last year, the Maldives was visited by over 1.5 million tourists. The country set a target of 2 million tourists in 2020. However, COVID-19 is set to dash hopes of achieving this goal.
On March 9, 2020, the country imposed a travel ban on visitors from China, Iran, Italy, parts of South Korea, Bangladesh and all cruise ships. On March 15, certain European countries were added to the list.
China and Italy, two of the most affected countries, are also the biggest markets for Maldives tourism. The tourism arrivals declined by 14.3 percent in February this year. In March, after the bans, it fell considerably more.
Any significant decline in tourist arrivals has a ripple effect on Maldives’ economy: presidenthttps://t.co/LRUTZHARQk
— raajje.mv (@raajjemv) March 15, 2020
The blanket ban on tourists including cruise ships will hit the country's economy and it will likely face a serious shortfall in foreign currency earnings.
Social media users are divided among those who view a complete lockdown as the only option to stop the virus from creating havoc while others believe that the country simply cannot afford a ban on foreign tourists and a complete lockdown.
Jenny Latheef views a complete lockdown as the solution:
A total #LockDown will save MORE money than partial lockdowns. And early opening of the country before the rest of the world has contained the virus too! Only together can the world be rid of this #coronavirus.
— Jenny Latheef (@LitmusTimes) March 24, 2020
Ali Hussain responds to Amhar who asks if a total lockdown can be afforded:
The rent and bills would be cheaper than infecting yourself, bringing it to your home and infecting your family. And if you lose a family member to the virus…. Can you afford it?
— Ali Hussain (@AliEHussain) March 16, 2020
Isra questions the measure of confining workers, even those who are no longer employed, to resorts while tourists were allowed to arrive for holidays, till the latest decision not to issue on-arrival visa:
So, just forcing people to stay in an island where they are no longer employed, without any suspected cases of Covid19 but also not restricting travelers who may potentially carry the virus to the resorts? https://t.co/NU5yf52wsE
— Isra ? (@IsraSaudulla) March 17, 2020
uh-huh. As long as there are links from resorts to population centers, quarantine exceptions for resort guests remain a significant risk… Lockdown population centers before going about your last ditch efforts to save tourism… This is getting real tiring now… https://t.co/9pIL2rmZEf
— Umran (@phantomread_) March 20, 2020
However, some workers in resorts such as Saaif Zaryr support the government's move to confine workers:
I work at a resort and I applaud the governments decision to lockdown resorts. The vast majority of the cases in Maldives originated within resorts. It is in the best interest of the general public that people working in resorts be prevented from mingling with the general public. https://t.co/XmP5xXGFBK
— Saaif Zaryr (@SaaifZaryr) March 15, 2020
Meanwhile, Faraz asks if the money generated by tourism benefits the people:
Tourism generates more value than, let's say, fishing.
But where does that value go? To offshore accounts! What good does that do to anyone? https://t.co/oBasfQpMAV
— Abdulla ? Faraz (@n3m6) March 23, 2020
The Maldives is also using several resorts to quarantine suspected persons in separate islands near the capital Malé. As per the previous decision before lockdown, Maldives nationals arriving from abroad were being quarantined for 14 days in these designated places with the exception of tourists checking in to their pre-booked resorts.
Arrived in Maldives after travelling for more than 24 hours and checked into quarantine facilities provided by the government- which are exceptional. Everything is very well organised and everyone is so nice and helpful. Thanks a lot and kudos to the amazing work being done! ?? pic.twitter.com/CQmfVWoUtD
— Nash Nasheed (@NashNasheed) March 23, 2020