Minister of Health Abdulla Ameen on Wednesday announced that the first phase of easing the lockdown restrictions enacted over the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the country, which concludes on May 28, would last for four weeks.
Speaking at a press conference held at the National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC), he noted that the easing of restrictions, which are to be implemented in two two-week periods, will see movement within islands become less restrictive, the allowing of three individuals from each household in capital Male' to go outside for two hours with Maldives Police Service's authorization, in addition to issuing special permits for businesses.
- Government offices will remain closed during the first phase; however, to the capacity of the institution, work may commence
- Retail businesses such as corner shops, bakeries, bookshops, pharmacies and hardware shops will be allowed to operate more freely
- Banks will open for three days per week during the first two weeks, and for five days during the last two weeks of the first phase, with restrictions
- Electronics, textiles and the cosmetics industries will receive more lenient opportunities to begin online delivery
- Automobile, construction and electronics repair shops will be able to begin operations within certain restrictions
- Local fish market to open.
- Restaurant and cafes can provide delivery and takeaway options for first two weeks
- Private transportation such as taxi and cargo pickup services can begin operations
- Public transportation including ferry and bus transportation will remain halted
- Individuals can visit flu clinics for physical appointments
- Health facilities will begin public operations while clinics may provide online OPD services.
- The construction industry will receive special permits to proceed with projects
- Educational institutions will remain closed but opportunities will be provided for universities and colleges to hold online classes.
- Sports and recreational areas, and facilities such as parks and beaches will remain closed for the first two weeks
- Inter-island travel and cargo restrictions will be maintained
- Beauty salons and barbershops will remain closed
- Airports and resorts will remain closed
Lockdown measures of all islands without exposure to COVID-19 will conclude, sans inter-island travel.
In concluding his statement, Minister Ameen conveyed that easing lockdown measures is not indicative that COVID-19 has been eradicated from the country.
NEOC's Technical Advisory Group (TAG)'s Chief Dr Ali Latheef noted that transmission rates had lowered, adding that cluster bubbles have been effectively reduced, on a local level, from 33 individuals to just six people per confirmed case of the virus.
Moreover, he added that case emergences were predominantly originating from already identified clusters and that non-cluster transmission remains minimal. He warned that authorities were prepared to enact stricter lockdown measures again, should the easing of restrictions cause a surge in virus transmissions.
The doctor also mentioned the establishment of the country's first COVID-19 specialized hospital in reclaimed suburb Hulhumale', which increases the combined bed capacity dedicated to COVID-19 cases to 500.
He further revealed that Maldives currently has the capacity to conduct 600 tests daily. The number is soon to increase after privately-run ADK Hospital begins testing next week.
Dr Latheef noted that authorities previously quarantined individuals in resorts facilities, however, certain persons are now undergoing quarantine at their residences.
He also urged the public to observe social distancing and basic respiratory hygiene, highlighting the importance of using masks when in public spaces, adding that individuals must use masks when entering enclosed spaces such as shops.
Furthermore, large offices and employers must conduct regular temperature checks of their employees.
An assessment will be conducted following the first period of phase one of easing lockdown measures. More restrictions will be eased or reverted based on the findings.
During the conference, NEOC consultant Dr Sheena Moosa also shed light on why authorities have considered lowering the restrictive measures. As such, she noted public compliance with infection prevention measures, further reducing the risk of community transmission.
She added that a large number of disproportionately affected migrant workers residing in the country have been exposed to the virus and are now recovering, of which 75 percent were found with IgG antibodies.
In addition to this, as per current projections, Maldives' healthcare system is within the capacity to accommodate for the current baseline of viral infections, currently averaging at roughly 50 cases each day.
According to the doctor, healthcare facilities have also increased their capacity for early detection within high-risk populations.
The authorities further emphasised that easing of lockdown restrictions did not mean that the virus has been eradicated, and reminded the pubic to bear in mind that a vaccine for COVID-19 is yet to be found. Hence, they urged the public to keep adhering to the government's instructions, and practise physical distancing, good hygiene and other precautionary measures for their protection and to curb the spread of infection as much as possible.
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Maldives' large expatriate population, the majority of whom are Bangladeshi nationals and live in highly congested quarters where it is impossible to reduce contact or exercise social distancing.
As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Malé has recorded a significant increase in COVID-19 cases following the first confirmed local transmission on April 15.
Maldives presently records 1,457 confirmed and 1,210 active cases of COVID-19, with five fatalities and 242 recoveries.
WHO has classified the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The new strain of novel coronavirus has infected over 5.7 million people and claimed over 354,884 lives around the world. However, out of those infected, 2.4 million people have recovered.