Authorities revealed, on Monday, that guesthouses will be allowed to reopen on October 15, albeit with mandatory departure testing required for all tourists holidaying at inhabited islands in Maldives.
Speaking at the press briefing held by the Health Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC), Technical Advisory Group (TAG)'s senior member Dr Ahmed Shaheed stated that the measure was introduced to ensure easier contact tracing in case of an outbreak.
Dr Shaheed also noted that tourists visiting guesthouses are required to undergo PCR testing upon arrival in Maldives.
In order to minimise the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak, Dr Shaheed advised all visitors to refrain from frequenting public spaces such as restaurants and cafes. He requested guests to either opt for takeaway or delivery options instead of dining in.
Under the Tourism Minisry's guidelines tourists staying at guesthouses are not mandated to wear masks whilst walking around on the island. However, they must wear face masks when entering an enclosed space shared with many individuals.
However, tourists are also prohibited from entering homes of islanders.
As guesthouses are set to reopen, three months after the country restarted tourism on resorts and liveaboards, Dr Shaheed stated that regional testing for the virus will also increase to
Deputy Minister of Tourism Assad Riza stated during the press conference that the permit for operating guesthouses is granted through a strict set of guidelines due to the current situation posed by the ongoing pandemic.
He requested the cooperation of guesthouse operators and island councils, in particular, to implement the newly introduced guidelines to ensure the safety of island communities.
"The taskforces in islands must also be active and coordinate with HPA (Health Protection Agency) to monitor [the situation] and notify the ministry as guesthouse businesses restart", he said.
According to Assad, permits to reopen guesthouses will be granted to islands after assessing the virus situation on the island, with the consent of the island council.
Following the council's authorisation, guesthouses must request for a permit from the ministry, with a detailed Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), in line with HPA's guidelines, on how safety measures will be implemented, Assad said.
He further noted that the councils will inspect the guesthouses to ensure that their operations follow the SOP submitted to the ministry.
As with numerous countries around the world, in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Maldives closed its air and sea borders to tourist arrivals on March 27, halting the issuance of on-arrival visas.
The restrictions on international travel left Maldives' heavily tourism reliant economy in an extremely vulnerable state. In mid-April, the World Bank projected that Maldives would be the worst-hit economy in the South Asian region due to the pandemic.
Maldives estimates a shortfall of approximately USD 450 million (MVR 6.9 billion) in foreign currency and a state deficit of MVR 13 billion in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the tourism industry.