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Maldives: Can a country so dependent on tourism afford a lockdown?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

This article is republished from Global Voices under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.