Roundup: Maldives prepares for post COVID-19 tourism revival

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MALE, June 30 (Xinhua) -- As the Maldives prepares to re-open its borders to tourism in July amid an easing COVID-19 outbreak situation in the country, the Tourism Ministry has issued a 28-page guideline for restarting tourism outlining minimum standards to be followed by stakeholders including central government agencies, local governments, resorts, hotels, guest houses, tourist vessels and supporting businesses.

The guidelines, based on research, international best practice, case studies, and industry consultation, contain a host of recommendations and envisage a phased reopening of tourist facilities, with a tentative timeline of July 15 for re-opening facilities on uninhabited islands, and Aug. 1 for re-opening facilities on inhabited islands.

Standard preventive measures including wearing face masks, maintaining a distance of one meter, and hand washing or sanitizing are to be implemented at the airport, while arrivals are expected to have confirmed bookings and undergo temperature checks and screening.

Mandatory PCR tests will only be conducted on arrivals displaying symptoms such as coughing, runny nose, and shortness of breath, the cost of which must be borne by the tourists or their host facility. However, the government retains a provision to conduct random PCR testing of tourist arrivals at its own expense.

Arrivals who test positive will not be allowed to enter facilities on inhabited islands. Facilities on uninhabited islands may choose to host infected arrivals in isolation or transfer them to a government-run facility.

New standards stipulate that re-opened resorts must have suitable areas for self-isolation of guests and self-isolation of staff. Staff are to be trained in social distancing and disinfection measures, and resorts should be stocked with PPE.

Resorts are also expected to have medical officers who have undergone Health Protection Agency (HPA) certified training and must provide a health and safety plan to the Ministry of Tourism before being allowed to re-open.

The Ministry of Tourism has required workers arriving from overseas before July 15, or from islands currently under monitoring, to be quarantined for 14 days before being allowed to report for work.

Meanwhile, a circular sent to all tourism establishments by the Ministry of Tourism Senior Policy Director Mohamed Hassaan has "highly recommended all tourist facilities to re-hire the staff who were sent off."

Urging establishments to rehire retrenched workers, the circular said "we believe it is the employees of the Maldives tourism sector who have one of the biggest shares in the success the Maldives has achieved so far."

President Ibrahim Solih has said that the country expects to attract around 850,000 tourists this year though state revenue generated through the sector will likely be halved due to the cumulative effects of the pandemic.

Local media reports citing Minister of Tourism Ali Waheed as saying that over 70 out of some 150 resorts in the Maldives will be in operation by the time borders are re-opened in July. The remaining resorts will gradually be opened by October.

"Global pandemic COVID-19 had more of a socio-economic impact on the Maldives than the 2004 Asian Tsunami and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis," Waheed has said.

Tourism constitutes a third of the Maldives' national revenue, and the suspension of issuing visas on-arrival on March 27 marked the first time that arrivals dropped to zero since the tourism business began 47 years ago.

Maldives' economy in 2020 is projected to contract by 8.1 percent according to the International Monetary Fund, while the World Bank estimated a contraction of 8.5 percent.

The Maldives currently has 2,336 confirmed cases of COVID-19, out of which 1,927 have fully recovered and eight have died. Around 65 percent of all confirmed cases are foreign citizens, mostly migrant workers. Enditem

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