The Edition


COVID-19: Stay where you are! Maldivians urged to defer returning home and flatten the curve

Ahmed Aiham
19 March 2020, MVT 19:23
An aerial view of capital city Male', one of the most densely populated cities in the world. PHOTO: HUSSAIN WAHEED / MIHAARU
Ahmed Aiham
19 March 2020, MVT 19:23

Speaking at the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC), Dr Ahmed Shaheed on Tuesday, urged Maldivians abroad to refrain from returning to the country unless absolutely necessary.

"I too have loved ones living abroad", said Mabrouq Abdul Azeez, Undersecretary of Communications at the President's Office, who was heading the nation-wide broadcasted press conference along with Dr Shaheed.

"But the reality is that staying where you are, at this time, is the best course of action one could take", said the doctor.

Health experts and travel consultants around the world have also chimed in with the same sentiments, advising people to halt any travel plans between countries at this time, including returning to one's home country.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) and other medical experts, a healthy person is still likely to contract the disease during travel, at the country of travel origin or even at the airport, as exposure to other individuals would be higher.

With regard to Maldivians living aboard, a large number of student populations exist in travel-restricted countries such as Malaysia and the United Kingdom. At the risk of further importing COVID-19 into the country, authorities recommend students to avoid all non-essential travel.

Dr Ahmed Shaeed went on to state that living conditions abroad would be more suitable compared to the congested environment in the capital city Male', one of the world's most densely populated cities and houses roughly half of the Maldives' resident population.

Malaysian news outlet 'Free Malaysia Today' reported that the former Malaysian Minister of Health Dr Lee Boon Chye also similarly recommended Malaysian students to refrain from returning to Malaysia over the possibility of spread into remote areas within the country.

Persons travelling from a restricted country or region may enter Maldives if they have spent more than 14 days in transit at a country that is not under a ban. While Maldivian nationals are not barred from re-entering their country, those attempting to come home from restricted points of origin will be subject to quarantine protocols.

'Flattening the curve'

An animated infographic developed in collaboration with Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles. GRAPHICS: TOBY MORRIS / XTOTL

An epidemical curve is a data projection that indicates the beginning of a disease outbreak. Over time, the graph reveals three phases of the outbreak - the rise, peak and fall.

An animated infographic developed in collaboration with Microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles. GRAPHICS: TOBY MORRIS / XTOTL

With a limited number of resources and intensive care beds, containing the onset (phase one) of an outbreak is crucial to prevent overloading facilities and potentially endangering health workers, further reducing the capacity of healthcare systems.

At the time of this publication, Maldives has solely recorded imported viral transmissions of COVID-19, with no positive cases recorded within the past 72 hours.

Given the incubation period for the disease, that is those infected may not show symptoms for 5-10 days, a person can easily carry the strain into an arriving destination with no knowledge of doing so. Should that happen, a number of vulnerable people (such as the elderly and/or immunocompromised persons) could be exposed to the virus.

This would then lead to phase two, the sporadic community spread of the virus and subsequent peak of confirmed cases.

Therefore, the highest priority of any country such as Maldives, which is still in phase one, would be to ensure that the situation does not progress into a second stage. In order to stop a virus from spreading and prevent healthcare systems from reaching maximum capacity, the most important precautions are being vigilant in observing good hygiene, maintaining herd immunity by social distancing and following guidelines publicized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

Per the government's official stance, Maldives' aim is and must be, to flatten the second phase of the curve as much as possible.

The Best Case Scenario

Should we find success in flattening the curve, it would ensure that the nation could effectively provide treatments for all those who need it. This is true of Maldives and all other afflicted areas.

An infographic developed to compare the differences between symptoms of COVID-19, a flu and a common cold. GRAPHICS: TOBY MORRIS / XTOTL

Evidence addressing the importance of flattening the curve is clearest by the way in which Italy, with the oldest population in Europe, is scrambling to acquire resources to tackle the outbreak. Buckling under the pressure, Italian authorities have resorted to relegating care to certain patients over others, as they find themselves having to make the difficult decision of prioritizing intensive care to those that need it most urgently.

The country recorded over one-third of overall COVID-19 deaths and has in response, now completely closed off public gatherings and businesses.

Time to stand together

As harrowing as it may be to many in isolation and far from home, the most responsible course of action would be to cooperate with healthcare officials to flatten the curve and work towards the best possible outcome in outbreak mitigation.

Having embarked on this perilous journey, we must stand in solidarity with one another and brave through this storm of uncertainty.

Global spread of COVID19

In one form or the other, it seems most of the world has suffered throughout this pandemic, with economic repercussions projected to be vast and long-standing. To date, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 219,000 and claimed over 8,960 lives around the world. However, out of those infected, more than 85, 670 have recovered.

Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, 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 state also temporarily closed down all government offices and educational institutions, urging the public to practice good hygiene, social distancing and stay home unless absolutely necessary.