Information last updated: August 28, 2020
Stay-at-home orders, closure of all non-essential shops and establishments, and complete border closure ended by presidential decree on July 15th as the ¨new normality¨ phase was set to begin. Nonetheless, a surge in cases in the month of August has resulted in new lockdown measures for the Greater Male’ Region.
Response set up and capacity
The President, Cabinet of Ministers, and particularly the Minister of Health are in charge of coordinating a response to the pandemic. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is tasked with the supervision of all of the measures taken to contain the virus. The National Task Force on Resilience and Recovery is responsible for analyzing the COVID 19 context and pushing forward measures to cope with the economical consequences of the pandemic in the country.
At the moment, the Maldivian government has a response set up of 4.3 hospital beds per 1000 people and 3.2 ICU beds per 100,000. Furthermore, the country has access to 45.6 medical doctors per 10,000 people and 64.3 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people. Currently, there are 97 ventilators in the Maldives. To date, the World Health Organization has donated 17,000 testing kits to the country. Nevertheless, as of August, UNFPA has set forth that Maldives has the highest number of COVID-19 cases per million inhabitants in the entirety of the Asia-Pacific region.
Entities / Organizations
• National Disaster Management Authority
• Technical Advisory Group
• Ministry of Health
• Ministry of Defence and National Security
• Maldives Police Service
• President’s Office
• Health Protection Agency (HPA)
• Maldives Red Crescent
• UN Agencies - UNICEF, UNFPA, UNDP
• World Bank
• Asian Development Bank ADB
• Government of India
Mitigating factors - What is being done?
In March 2020, the President had announced that the economy of the Maldives would likely be hit hard by the pandemic, with the estimated GDP growth for 2020 of 7.5% expected to go down to somewhere between 0.5 and -5.6%. The main contributor to GDP is tourism, which accounted for 20.2% GDP in 2018. At that initial stage, a number of private sector companies took measures to shut down resorts and send off staff without any compensation. According to 2014 census data, 52.3% staff working in resorts are Maldivian (92.6% male, 7.4% female) while 47.7% staff working are foreign (88.1% male, 11.9% female).
In the onset of the pandemic, all cruise ships were rejected entry and stopover. Ports were being monitored and restrictions also included cargo and freight. Use of all public grounds, parks and cinemas was halted and tourist check-ins to guest houses and city hotels in the Greater Male’ Area were suspended with exceptions for diplomats from accredited Missions intending to travel to the Maldives.
Isolation and quarantine facilities have been set up in 12 designated islands near the greater Male area and for different levels of severity, including for Maldivian nationals returning from other countries. Contact tracing is done for each case and suspected case, and potential contacts are asked to self-isolate. There is now a need for a comprehensive national public health risk communication strategy, to address multiple outbreaks including the COVID-19, Measles, and Chickenpox.
- February 4 – Travel restrictions are put in place for travelers from China.
- March 7 – First positive case is identified at Kuredu Island Resort.
- March 8 – Travel restrictions extended to include Italy.
- March 12 – Minister of Health declares Public Health Emergency for 30 days.
- March 14 – All universities, colleges and other academic institutions suspended all activities on campus for 2 weeks.
- March 15 – Travel restrictions extended to Germany (Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg), Spain (All provinces and regions), France (Île-de-France and Grand Est).
- March 19 – Government closes offices for one week and additionally all schools, colleges and universities are closed until April 9.
- March 27 – The Government of Maldives temporarily suspends the issuance of on-arrival visas.
- March 31 -The Maldivian Cabinet extends the closure of government offices, schools, colleges and universities for another week. Also, the President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih urges service providers to ensure free telecommunication and internet connectivity to both the COVID -19 task force operation centers and to the population in general.
- April 2 – The Government imposes curfew from 5pm to 8pm and banned construction from 5pm to 6am in the Greater Male’ Region (Male’, Hulhumale’ and Villimale’). Public gatherings exceeding 3 people are not allowed.
- April 8 – President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih announces the extension of the closure regarding all government offices, schools, colleges and universities for another week.
- April 15 – The HPA announces the first local case transmission of COVID 19 in Male’ city. As a result, the President declares that the capital will be on lockdown for the next 24 hours.
- April 18 – President orders all governmental offices to be closed from April 19 to April 30 after the announcement of full lockdown in the cities of Male’, Hulhumale’ and Villimale’.
- April 30 – President Ibrahim Solih extends once again the closure of all governmental offices until May 14th following the extension of lockdown measures for Male’, Hulhumale’ and Villimale’ cities for another 14 days.
- May 4 – President Ibrahim Solih announces travel restrictions from the Greater Male Area to other islands and completely bans travel between the islands themselves.
- May 7 – Government establishes the National Task Force on Resilience and Recovery whose main objective is to analyze the COVID 19 context and put forward measures to cope with the economical consequences of the pandemic in the country. The Task Force is made up of 3 Working Groups : Finance, Economic Recovery and Social Sector. Moreover, Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer announces that frontline workers involved in the fight against COVID-19 would be receiving an additional daily allowance between MVR200 -MVR 500 depending on the risk incurred by each individual.
- May 10 – President Ibrahim M. Solih ratifies a bill passed by the Parliament to postpone elections for Local Councils and Women’s Development Committees. These elections are to take place in May 2021.
- May 15 – Government extends the closure of all governmental offices from May 17 to May 28. Additionally, the quarantine in the Greater Male’ Region ( Male’, Hulhumale’ and Villimale) is extended for another 14 days.
- May 16 – Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer and Economic Minister Fayyaz Ismail report that public servants who are earning salaries above MRV 20,000 will be subject to 20% pay cuts.
- May 20 – In a televised presidential address, President Ibrahim M. Solih announces additional economic measures to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on the Maldivian people:
- A group of bank and financial institutions have joined in to create a program that offers 6-month moratoriums on bank loans taken by business and individual citizens.
- For those who lost their jobs amid the crisis, the government established a monthly allowance of 5000 MVR for each identified person.
- Government extends lease payments for 6 months for resort, agricultural and other types of lands.
- May 30 – The government publishes a presidential directive where it announces a partial reopening of government institutions. The announcement indicated that the institutions would only operate on Monday – Wednesday.
- June 2 – The legislative branch, with ratification by the President, modified an article of the Maldivian Constitution to extend the tenure of city, atoll and island councilors under exceptional circumstances.
- June 9 – The World Bank Board of Executive Directors approves a USD $12.8 million COVID-19 support project mainly aimed at financing the Income Support Allowance scheme carried out by the government.
- June 11 – President extends partial reopening of government institutions. Workdays are extended an additional day from Monday-Thursday.
- June 23 – The presidential office held an open press conference where the President declared that starting July 15th the country would be: reopening international travel; allowing prayers in congregation; facilitating the return of students to classrooms; and permitting dine-in services in restaurants and cafés.
- June 25 – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) approves a 25 million concessional loan and a 25 million grant to help the Government of Maldives carry out health, social and economic responses to the pandemic.
- July 2 – The national government decides to officially open government institutions starting on July 5. In the directive published by the President’s Office, the executive defines and extends the previous work week to be from Sunday through Thursday.
- July 7 – The president, with the support from his cabinet, announces that the country would not celebrate Independence Day this year which was supposed to take place on July 26.
- July 14 – Ministry of Home Affairs reveals that protests and large public gatherings could only take place with the written approval from Maldives Police Service.
- July 20 – The Asian Development Bank approves an additional USD $ 1 Million grant financed by Japan.
- August 4 – The government introduces a 22:00- 5:00 curfew in the Greater Male region after rise in COVID-19 cases following the easement of lockdown measures initiated on July 15th. Furthermore, the government establishes face mask use as compulsory.
- August 9 – Government offices are officially reopened.
- August 13 – India pledges USD$500 million in economic aid for Maldives through infrastructure development projects.
- August 20 – The Ministry of Education announces that schools in the city of Male’ are to remain closed after the surge in COVID-19 cases. The closure will take place until September 3.
At the beginning of the health crisis in March, the President announced several measures the government to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. This included a stimulus package of 2.5b Maldivina Rufiyaa (approximately 2.5% of the GDP) that aimed to provide financial assistance to businesses through loan schemes, deferrals on student loans, and subsidies for household electricity and water bills.
The latest expenditure figures published by the government say that the country has allocated MVR 1,114.1 million MVR to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the National Disaster Management Authority has received 703.0 million MVR while the next most benefited entity has been the Health Ministry with MVR 166.8 million.
Risks, vulnerabilities, obstacles
- The Maldivian economy is predominantly dependent on the international tourism sector as its economic contribution to the GDP is by far the largest with a share of 28%. This makes the country a particularly weak link in the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Bank established that the tourism sector fell by 63,4% for the month of March in comparison to the same month last year. The Bank foresees a 13% contraction of the GDP if tourism returns by the end of the year and a 17,5% contraction if lockdowns persist. Likewise, the ADB has kept a special eye on the country since it declared that it would be one of the most affected countries in the South Asian region.
- According to population projections, Maldives is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Just in the Male area there lives a third of the 550,000 population of the country. Furthermore, WorldPop calculations show that in the country there is a concentration of 2,000 persons per square kilometer. This is without a doubt a key factor the government must take into account in the promotion of social distancing and safety measures.
- Women and girls could be impacted by the pandemic and its consequences in many ways. From past experiences, resources have been diverted to contain and respond to public health emergencies, whilst limiting support to routine health care services. Pregnant women may have disruptions in ANC/PNC and challenges to breastfeeding. Many women are in the informal sector and 40% of households in Maldives are female headed – these households are likely to be poorer than male headed households. With the extended closing of schools under the state of health emergency, women face additional burdens, including childcare, and will likely be impacted disproportionately by the unfolding situation.
- During emergencies, the risk of violence, exploitation and abuse is likely to increase, particularly for women and girls. With a heightened burden on the healthcare systems, protection systems for women and girls may weaken, further exacerbating pre-existing inequalities. The Maldives Demographic Health Survey reports that 16.7 % of women aged 15 and above face violence by an intimate partner in the last year.
- Under these circumstances and in any emergencies, some of the most vulnerable groups who will have immediate as well as longer term impacts include the elderly, the poor, children, and migrants. Population projections estimate that 18,598 (6,442 in Male’) are over 65 years, out of which 4177 (1095 in Male’) are above 80 years.
- Elderly: According to MOGFSS, there are 19,730 individuals over the age of 65, which has proven to be the most vulnerable group to COVID-19 due to a higher fatality rate. This sector of the population may have difficulty caring for themselves and may be dependent on family or caregivers.
- People with Disabilities: 7,771 PWD are registered with NSPA and receive allowances. The recently conducted evaluation indicates only 25% of the disabled population receives benefit. The PWDs may become socially isolated if there is no regular access to the community through education or employment. PWD with specific communication needs will have barriers to accessing information circulated about COVID-19.
- Bed ridden patients: Around 1200 bedridden elderly patients are registered with the Ministry of Gender. Out of which 58 are in Male’. Due to high rise buildings it has been often challenging to provide services. They may also face difficulty caring for themselves and be dependent on family or caregivers.
Potential actions and demands
- Migrant workers: At the end of June there had been various reports of expatriate workers protesting over unpaid wages. The foreign nationals protesting were hired to build flats for the Maldives Police Service and Maldives National Defense Force. The Covid -19 context has not only worsened their living conditions but has become an auspicious context for human rights violations including the curtailment of peaceful assembly, according to Human Rights Watch. This has shed light on a larger problem that relates to the high proportion of migrant workers in the country which, according to HRW, circle the 100,000 population mark, almost 20% of the total population. This population is highly vulnerable to contagion given that they live in shared and congested quarters and are rarely provided with healthcare by their employers.
- Political disputes: In late July, protests were once again at center stage but this time focusing on political issues. The opposition coalition parties Progressive Party of Maldives (PPV) and People’s National Congress (PNC) called for people to march for the release of convicted former president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and the resignation of the current President. The protests lasted more than two days with opposition party leader Abdulla Abdul Raheem going as far as declaring that the virus was a ploy by the government to scare protesters. A week later, PNC’s vice-president declared that they would put protests on hold due to the surge in cases in the month of August.
- Corruption: Corruption cases have also become apparent in the midst of the pandemic. On August 17, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih suspended several officials from the Health Ministry due to the results of a probe that had been underway regarding the procurement of 75 ventilators. The investigation led by the Auditor General’s office has resulted in parliament members calling for the dismissal of the Health Minister.