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Maldives parliament halts sittings over COVID-19 pandemic

Fathmath Shaahunaz
18 March 2020, MVT 14:42
Former president and Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed outside the parliament house. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI / MIHAARU
Fathmath Shaahunaz
18 March 2020, MVT 14:42

The parliament of Maldives announced Wednesday to temporarily halt sittings over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Announcing the decision, Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed stated that lawmakers and administrative staff will work from home this Thursday onwards.

However, he stressed that legislative powers could not come to a halt amidst the coronavirus situation in Maldives, and that the parliament will work as necessary in the event the government required legislative decisions. Hence, he urged all MPs to be prepared to come in at any time should their presence be required.

Administrative staff will continue to work from home, he added.

Although the speaker made the decision under the authority vested in him by the parliamentary regulations, he invited lawmakers to share their opinions.

Henveiru Central MP and ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)'s parliament group leader, Ali Azim objected to halting all sessions, insisting that the parliament had much work to do for the citizens. However, he expressed favour to reduce the numbers and duration of sittings to minimise costs.

On the contrary, Eydhafushi MP Ahmed Saleem, who is the minority leader and opposition coalition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)-People's National Congress (PNC)'s joint parliamentary group leader, supported the speaker's decision. Noting that the global pandemic continues to claim numerous lives, he called to implement precautionary and preventive measures before the local situation exacerbated. He added that now was not the time to oppose government decisions.

Meanwhile, the administration has closed down all public offices for the duration of next week. While all schools remain closed since the end of the mid-term break, the government also decided on Wednesday to halt online classes for next week as well.

Maldives currently has 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including a tourist couple on a liveaboard, two cases from Anantara Dhigu, five foreign nationals from Kuredu Island Resort as well as two foreign citizens from Sandies Bathala and Kuramathi Maldives each. No locals have tested positive for the virus as of yet.

The island national announced a state of public health emergency, under which the government has implemented several measures. This includes travel restrictions to and from resorts, and temporary suspension of tourist check-ins in guesthouses and hotels around the country.

In addition, Maldives has banned entry from China, Italy, Iran, Bangladesh, Spain, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, and parts of South Korea, France and Germany.

The World Health Organization has classified the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The novel coronavirus has infected more than 199,300 and claimed over 7,900 lives around the world. However, out of those infected, more than 82,700 have recovered.

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