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Maldives declares public health emergency over COVID-19

Fathmath Shaahunaz
12 March 2020, MVT 15:33
During the joint drill held on a possible COVID-19 outbreak in Male' City. FILE PHOTO: AHMED AWSHAN ILYAS / MIHAARU
Fathmath Shaahunaz
12 March 2020, MVT 15:33

Maldives declared its first ever state of public health emergency on Thursday, over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a press conference held in Dharubaaruge convention centre, Minister of Health Abdulla Ameen stated that the emergency, declared under Section 33 of the 7/2012 Public Health Act, would be in effect from March 12 onwards for a period of 30 days.

According to Minister Ameen, the state could swiftly take all relevant steps to curb the COVID-19 outbreak in Maldives under this public health emergency. He stated that controlling the spread of the virus is presently the top priority of the government.

The minister assured that the emergency was not declared because the situation of COVID-19 worsened in Maldives. However, in the wake of World Health Organisation (WHO) categorising COVID-19 as a pandemic, and the exacerbating situations in other countries such as the European nations, the minister stated that Maldives faced the possibility of increased risks and danger.

Hence, declaring emergency would facilitate the state to hasten measures and steps taken to protect public health, under the specific powers granted under the emergency, he said.

Minister Ameen acknowledged the technical assistance and counsel from medical experts received by Maldives on preventive and response measures against the coronavirus. He asserted that the government would take consider the evolving domestic and international situations, as well as past national experiences, when taking steps against COVID-19.

The Public Health Act, which was implemented in 2012, accords the power to declare a state of public health emergency to the Director General of Public Health, who also advises the health minister on the areas to be designated as under emergency as well as on how to proceed. Some of the steps that could be taken under public health emergency includes:

- Holding vaccination programmes for certain groups of people as necessary

- Determining the distribution of vaccines, medicines and other related materials, based on the urgency of need by different groups of people

- Shutting down educational institutions and prohibiting public gatherings

- Providing assistance and resources to people in quarantine

- Imposing travel restrictions and bans, including via land, sea and air

Currently there are eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maldives, with four foreign nationals from Kuredu Island Resort, and two from Sandies Bathala and Kuramathi Maldives each. Although the resorts were put on lockdown, Kuredu being the first last weekend, Health Protection Agency (HPA) lifted the restrictive measures this Wednesday.

WHO has classified the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The novel coronavirus has infected more than 126,500 and claimed over 4,600 lives around the world. Out of those infected, more than 68,300 have recovered.