I am sure by now, we all have over-shopped toilet papers, hand sanitizers, groceries, and Netflixed the never-ending boredom out of our life for days…
Watching the news and reading about the new and deadly virus that appeared in Wuhan, China, in December of 2019 is part of our daily life now. Where should we turn for the latest information on a swiftly shifting situation? We know there’s a lot of beneficial and credible information online. But there’s also plenty of misinformation.
I have dodged writing this blog for days since – I am not the best person to write on such a delicate matter as well, be it in terms of science or economy. I can not give you the information in terms of rasing numbers that are so hard to keep up. Still, I might be able to help you with some information regarding the Maldives and the current situation and the tourism-related uncertainties of the Maldives.
Luckily, His Excellency Ambassador Ahmed Latheef, the Ambassador of the Republic of Maldives to the Federal Republic of Germany since 20th January 2019, was willing to answer some questions despite his busy schedule.
1. What measures are being taken by Govt of Maldives to control COVID-19?
Government of Maldives had taken a number of important measures right at the outset starting with suspending all direct flights from mainland China in January 2020. Upto now we have had 14 confirmed cases that include 2 Maldivians, both having contracted it from abroad. We are fortunate that almost all are recovering and we have had no fatalities.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the world, the Government of Maldives has formed an inter-agency Task Force and have been implementing measures to reduce the risk of importation of COVID- outbreak in the Maldives. Some of the early measures include, restriction of tourist travel within Maldives, establishment of flu clinics in different areas of Maldives and nation-wide closure of schools. Since the epidemic continued to spread at a rapid pace, the Government of Maldives stopped issuing on-arrival visa since 27 March 2020. In order to contain the outbreak within the Maldives several quarantine facilities have been put in place and efforts have been undertaken to disinfect the Grater Male’ area region and some large population centres. The National Task Force conducts daily media briefings to keep the public informed about the evolving situation and measures that are put place to avert the crisis.
2. We hear all the time about citizens failing to obey certain restrictions like social distancing, staying at home and in every country, in this term, how well are Maldivians following the instructions given by the authorities?
For a small country like the Maldives, with families living together in small spaces, it is indeed challenging to stay indoors all the time. However, I must say that majority of them are abiding by the rules and trying not to go out unnecessarily. Parks & public open venues have been closed thereby limiting opportunities for gatherings, especially by the significant expatriate workers in the Capital. The Government, through the media continuously emphasize the importance of this important aspect of preventing the spread of the virus.
3. The World Travel and Tourism Council has warned the COVID-19 pandemic could cut 50 million jobs worldwide in the travel and tourism industry. As for the Maldives, it’s the backbone of our economy. How badly did we take this hit in terms of economy? Are people working at the resorts losing their jobs? And in your opinion, how long will it take for the tourism sector to recover after this outbreak is under control?
The Maldives’ tourism industry is experiencing unprecedented losses. Local businesses are incurring major losses as well. The Government of Maldives is working towards minimizing the impact and to alleviate the suffering of the people, through a number of measures.
The Government has initiated a MVR 2.5 billion economic stimulus package. This stimulus package will provide financial support for the businesses experiencing economic loss as a result of COVID-19 and would include individual self-employed persons as well.
BML has decided to release Rf. 308 million from their reserves to resorts, guesthouses, and other local businesses that include short-term financing solutions.
To combat economic repercussions, SDFC announced on March 19 of its decision to lower interest rates to four percent for loans issued to SMEs and delay repayment period by six months.
4. How soon do you think the border will be open for tourism?
It would be unrealistic to predict any time period because of the fluid nature of the spread of the virus. It solely depends on how the global situation of the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds in the coming days as well as the local situation. However, the Government is hoping to resume flight connections to East Asia as a beginning before the end of April.
5. What will be the measurements taken after the border opens?
It is reasonable to expect the Government will remain vigilant even after the border is open given the nature of the pandemic. This would include following strict protocols prescribed by the WHO both with respect to foreigners and locals. Given that Maldives is so heavily dependent on the tourism industry as the main contributor to its economy, it is important to not let the situation slide back in any way.
The Government would be closely monitoring how the pandemic is affecting globally to ease restrictions and to help bring normalcy to everyday life of the citizens.
6. Perhaps for the economy to recover, do you think it will get more expensive to travel to the Maldives after this outbreak is over?
On the contrary. I will not be surprised if very special packages are offered to boost tourism in the post-pandemic situation. This would make it less expensive for the visitors.
The global pandemic and the ensuing economic collapse world-wide will compel all countries to re-design their development policies and priorities and adjust their strategies in the future. This will require robust tourism promotion and would be quite a challenge given the competitive nature of the industry. According to informed sources, over 20,000 bookings have already made by tourists wanting to visit the Maldives during summer. This is very optimistic and if managed well, it would yield great benefits.
It is not only the matter of one country, rather the global economy is drastically changing and is predicted to face more challenges in the upcoming months.
Over 50 tourist resorts have been temporarily shut down, but would be operational as soon as the situation improves, the expectation being within 3 months.
7. What would you like to tell the tourists planning to travel the Maldives once this outbreak is over? And to the tourists whose travel plans to the Maldives have been affected because of COVID-19?
The Maldives would welcome tourists as soon as borders are open and flights resumed. Given the geographical situation of the country, Maldives is probably the safest holiday destination even now. The chances of contracting the virus in a remote island that is extremely secluded from the populated islands and with limited occupants at any given time is relatively much less compared to many destinations.
For the tourists who’s travel plans to the Maldives have been affected, we encourage everyone to re-book their travel dates by talking to the resorts/guest houses. You may be surprised to get some good deals.
Many have already re-booked their travel dates and many have been refunded.
8. How prepared is the Embassy of Maldives evacuate Maldivian’s in a worst-case scenario, and what would you like to tell the Maldivian citizens who are living in Germany?
Embassy is in touch with Maldivians residing in different parts of Germany. We are also closely monitoring how the situation unfolds in Germany.
Evacuation of Maldivian nationals should be the last resort as the hazard of people travelling under the prevalent circumstances.
The Maldivian government is ready to assist any Maldivians facing difficulties during this time. At the same time, it is very important that all Maldivians understand the challenges in sending Maldivians home as several airlines have grounded their flights amid the pandemic. We have urged all Maldivians residing here to register at the Embassy as well so that it will be more convenient for us to assist them in case of need.
It must be noted that most Maldivians are those who have settled down in Germany with family and enjoy benefits as German residents/family members. Therefore their expectation for such an evacuation is rather limited.
We advise all Maldivians to abide by the rules and regulations implemented by the German Government. In case of any.
Thank you so much, H.E Mr. Ahmed Latheef, for answering our questions.
It taught us a valuable lesson of borders, Nationalities, and race being nothing but just tags, and we are more connected than being only individuals. We honor everyone serving directly and indirectly in this challenging time to diminish the trouble and to help save lives. We can not even begin to imagine the grief of people who lost loved ones and whose lives got afflicted by this harsh COVID-19. In this terrible time, let’s not forget to be the strength of each other.
Meanwhile, we Maldivians can not wait to open our doors for you to enjoy what our beautiful islands have to offer while you enjoy the best of our warm hospitality.
Until then, Wash your hands, social distance, stay home, stay safe, and let us help plan your next trip to Maldives. #aftercoronatravelplantoMaldives.