Recently a new and potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus was identified by WHO scientists in South Africa, which had pushed governments around the world to take swift action to curb the spread.
Meanwhile, several countries have already come forward with positive cases of the new variant dubbed Omicron, which predominantly include European destinations.
Initially the Omicron variant was detected in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, Britain and Israel which had sparked widespread global concern over fresh impetus to put a stop on the spread since the world at large was only quite recently recovering from the last severe wave of the contagion.
This has resulted in travel restrictions imposed by several countries on flights from southern Africa. Recent updates confirm the first positive case of the Omicron variant found from Czech Republic, while an Italian national who traveled to Mozambique tested positive to the variant.
Moreover, the situation has intensified since Germany reported two travelers arriving into the country on a flight from South Africa testing positive to the new variant. Meanwhile UK government has taken steps to restrict spread of the new variant, by tightening rules towards mask-wearing as well as testing international arrivals following discovery of two positive case arrivals into the country.
The US has also taken further steps to shelter itself from the spread of the new variant by blocking arrivals from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Furthermore, countries such as Australia, Japan, Iran, Brazil and even India have announced their respective travel restrictions and safety measures with almost all of these countries concentrating their screenings efforts primarily on South African arrivals.
While the worst-case scenario should not be assumed immediately, it is still best if such circumstances are analyzed to assess the possible impact it will have the economy. As such the discovery of this new variant, and its spread in the European peninsula does present challenges to the tourism industry in the Maldives.
The tourism industry of the island nation has observed potential signs of recovery only around the middle of the current year. Meanwhile tourist arrivals to the Maldives has already exceeded state projected arrival target – as of 24th November, the arrival count to the country reached 1.1 million.
Interestingly, out of the top five source market countries, four are already dealing with the Omicron variant. The strongest source markets to Maldives include India, Russia, Germany, USA and UK.
The island nation is heavily enjoyed by European travelers, and statistically the country observes the highest number of tourist arrivals from this region as well. On average, 50% of all the tourist arrivals to the Maldives originate from European destinations.
Consequentially, this is also the region where the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is rampant right now – precisely countries such as UK and Germany.
Should the situation intensify beyond its current condition, and result in yet another lockdown initiative across European countries then it will be heavily reflected on the tourist arrival number to the Maldives. While it is certain that the tourist arrival total for the current year will not be able to exceed the pre-Covid top figure which exceeded 1.7 million arrivals to the Maldives (recorded in 2019), the discovery of this new coronavirus variant may once again slow down the tourist flux to the archipelago.
If Maldives aims to offset any possible economical detriment that may be driven from this sudden shift in the dynamics of the international travel and tourism, then it should once again push out stronger screening efforts, potential restrictive measures on arrivals from countries with reported positive cases of the Omicron variant as well as another state backed initiative of vaccination push.
Since it is still too early to make a judgement call, it is always best to be 'safe than sorry' so the ideal route for the Maldives will be for its government to take swift action immediately that would help to reduce any possible spread of the new variant in the island nation – resulting in an another wave across the scattered islands.