Beloved citizens of the Maldives;
One month and five days have gone by since the onset of community spread of COVID-19 in the Maldives. Our system of contact tracing to identify positive cases and their direct contacts, as well as treatment and managed quarantining has been significantly developed during this period.
At present we have 1186 confirmed cases. 420 Maldivians and 766 foreigners have been confirmed to have the virus since the disease began spreading in Male’. By the grace of Almighty Allah, 91 people among them have fully recovered thus far. My prayers are with the four people who have passed away.
Statistics on community spread in the Maldives show the confirmation of approximately 1000 positive cases within a month. Notably, by the grace of Almighty Allah and owing to the preventive measures we implemented, the rate of spread for the virus has been lower than what was previously projected.
This is a result of widespread public compliance to the precautionary measures - lockdown of the Greater Male’ Area, travel restrictions - implemented upon the recommendations of health professionals.
During the early days of community spread, every positive case was in contact with an average of 36 other individuals. But now, the average number of individuals in contact with a given positive case has dropped to seven.
I wish to highlight the help and support demonstrated by the people to control this virus, despite the difficulties of lockdown. I know that there are some who arrived in Male’ intending to stay only for a few days and those who left their little ones back home to travel to Male’ for medical purposes, still unable to return to their islands.
There are resort staff who were meant to transit in Male’ following their initial quarantine, who then got caught up in the Male’ lockdown and are still unable to return to their islands. There are others who have made arrangements to seek healthcare from abroad, but are unable to travel.
At the same time, there are many Maldivians abroad who are unable to travel back. I convey my heartfelt gratitude to them all for their patience.
The Government has significantly reshaped our policy actions to lessen the impact on people’s lives from the stringent measures taken against COVID-19. We are now required to pay special attention to many issues that have no direct connection with this disease.
The Government continues to extend assistance to many vulnerable individuals who struggle with substance abuse. Additionally, the Government also provides assistance to vulnerable families, the elderly, and people in extreme poverty. These individuals include both Maldivians and foreign nationals.
We have arranged temporary shelters and food for these individuals. Psychological and social support for people who have been affected in various forms due to current circumstances are also underway.
Out of 1800 people stranded in Male’ due to lockdown, 1078 individuals, who require urgent travel to their respective islands, have now been transferred to quarantine facilities. The rest will be sent to quarantine by the 24th of this month. And, as of yesterday, 3016 people have been granted permission to enter Male’.
People leaving Male’ to other islands are placed in quarantine facilities in order to reduce the chances of this virus spreading to other islands. With community spread in Male’, it is not safe for people departing Male’ to be put in quarantine in their respective islands. That is the wish of the communities in the islands as well.
If the virus spreads to other islands, even through a slight mistake, the work that will be required to control its spread will be enormous. The restrictive measures that will have to follow will severely impact communities in those islands.
It is my belief that helping our people in times of need should be the highest priority of the Government. With the grace of Almighty Allah, and with the resources at our disposal, we will provide assistance to the greatest extent possible during these difficult times.
The Housing Development Finance Corporation (HDFC), Maldives Finance Leasing Company (MFLC), SME Development Financing Corporation (SDFC) and eight other banks operating in the Maldives have joined the programme that offers a six-month moratorium on bank loans taken out by businesses and individual citizens. Among the loans that were issued by these banks, the duration of loan repayment for over 15,000 loans have been deferred. 83% of the loans, that is 13,199 loans, were issued by the Bank of the Maldives (BML).
From the applications received from resorts and individual businesses for the loans issued by the Government through BML, 157 loans have been cleared for issuance, among which loans for 98 businesses have now been issued.
From the applications received for loans issued by the Government through SDFC to small businesses and freelance workers, work is currently underway to issue loans to 396 businesses and 134 freelance workers. This is a total of 530 applicants.
For those who have lost their jobs amid COVID-19, to ensure temporary relief, we have established a special package. Once these individuals are identified, a monthly allowance at a rate of MVR 5000 is issued to them.
The world has come to a halt. A situation that occurs quite rarely. In such situations, there are several things we can improve as we look to move forward. As such, when we restart the economy, it is important to think anew.
Many unfavourable practices continue to take place. It is important to perceive this as a chance for redress, and an opportunity to spearhead efforts to adopt sustainable lifestyle choices and policies to improve the living conditions of expatriate workers. This is also a critical juncture to revive our economy, to develop the habits to preserve for the future, and to be mindful of public health.
With the grace of Almighty Allah, we can overcome this difficulty. And, as we restart tourism, I believe we have to lend assistance to resorts as well. As such, the Government has now decided to defer land lease payment of resorts for a duration of six months. In addition to this, the Government has also decided to extend lease payment duration for the next six months for agricultural lands. It has also been decided to extend the duration of lease payment of other lands leased by the Ministry of Finance for six months.
While we work on containing this disease, we also need to get ready to resume our daily lives. The taskforce established to overcome the economic and social challenges presented by COVID-19 is working on this now.
Some may not be happy with the preventive measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, these measures had to be taken for everyone’s safety. We can all see the difficulties faced by the countries who didn’t take early preventive measures.
We are able to even talk of overcoming or easing these challenges after only one and half months of community spread, by the grace of Almighty Allah and these early preventive measures.
If the current measures, implemented on the advice of health professionals and complied to by the public, are being enforced properly, we can begin to prepare to ease the lockdown upon its completion.
The restrictions will be eased based on different phases. First, an ease in permissions for leaving your homes, and an easier process to allow commercial businesses to open and operate. Other phases will address how to ease measures related to public gatherings.
Permission will be given to mosques, hotels, cafes and schools to reopen under restrictive measures. The Government and private offices will also reopen with restrictive measures. The details on the new measures will be given by technical experts in the next few days.
As the lockdown measures in the Greater Male’ Region are eased, the Government will ensure that testing capacity is increased and that, God-willing, it has enough healthcare resources and medical equipment in order to treat patients.
The Government has also decided to ease some of the restrictions in other islands. We intend for normal life to resume as soon as possible in islands where there are no ongoing COVID-19 cases. This will encompass allowing for communal prayer, allowing normal business operations to resume, and reopening schools and offices.
If despite the easing of restrictions the country’s situation continues to improve, God-willing, we are prepared to reopen Velana International Airport to international travel in July. Further we will begin to allow for resorts to reopen in the same month. The relevant authorities have now begun to develop guidelines pertinent to how this loosening of restrictions will take place.
It is essential to keep in mind that returning to a state of lockdown is a real possibility if the loosening of restrictions results in the country’s health condition worsening. The country cannot immediately return to life as it was before the pandemic. Nor is the easing of restrictions tantamount to the threat of COVID-19 subsiding, or the country becoming free of the virus.
I acknowledge with gratitude the assistance being given to the Maldives to help us fight this pandemic by other countries and international organizations. I would also like to thank many organizations and individuals from the country’s private sector for their generosity during this ongoing crisis, especially Tree Top Hospital, as well as resort and guest-house operators who have allowed us to use their premises for isolation and quarantine facilities. I give special thanks also to the management of ADK Hospital.
At this time, I especially want to acknowledge and thank the service and sacrifice of frontline workers: medical professionals; the Maldivian National Defence Forces and Maldives’ Police Service; staff at the HPA and National Disaster Management Authority; cadets; scouts and girl guides; Red Crescent Staff and volunteers from the Red Crescent and volunteer organizations. I also thank the family members of front-line workers who have remained patiently at home.
My sincere prayer is that the country is soon made safe from this dangerous virus. I pray to Allah Almighty to give success to our collective efforts against COVID-19, and to help the country return to normal life. I end my remarks with the further prayer that Almighty Allah will show us compassion and provide us blessings during the final ten days of this ongoing month of Ramadan.