The Maldives has reopened resorts and is welcoming tourists again.
The Indian Ocean holiday spot welcomed its first international commercial passenger flights in more than three months on Wednesday.
Holidaymakers flying into Velana International Airport on Hulhule Island, near the capital, Male, faced few restrictions, despite the fact coronavirus case numbers in the country are still rising.
The first flight to land at the airport since it reopened was sprayed with a water cannon salute to mark the return of travellers.
"The stronger our safety measures, the better chance we have of being hailed as a [coronavirus] safe destination," Economic Minister Fayyaz Ismail said as he welcomed the arrivals.
"I don't believe that we would need to reimpose a border lockdown."
Tourism is the largest industry in the Maldives, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of the country’s GDP. Last year, the country welcomed 1.7 million foreign visitors.
Entry requirements for travellers
Tourists arriving in the Maldives do not need to present virus-free Covid-19 certificates and tests are not mandatory. Travellers must fill in a health declaration and anyone showing show signs of illness will be tested free of charge at the airport. All tourists can also be tested free of charge when they leave the Maldives.
Of the 150-plus resorts in the Maldives, 33 have reopened. Others plan to reopen shortly, including Ayada Maldives, which is scheduled to open on Wednesday, July 22, and One&Only Reethi Rah, which will open on Friday, July 24. Others, such as Gili Lankanfushi Maldives, are planning to welcome guests in August.
Saii Lagoon Maldives has already reopened and the resort welcomed the Bernd family as its first guests on Wednesday. The Swiss family have been to the Maldives before, but it's their first visit to the hotel, which is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton.
The resort's CleanStay measures are in place to protect travellers from when they land at the airport and on the island. The family arrived at the resort, where they were greeted by staff members who came out to welcome them on the jetty.
Hard Rock Hotel Maldives has also reopened and guests are checking in again. "It was just a pause, our music has never stopped. Now, we are back, all tuned up, back on the stage, our spectacle is like no other," said Tolga Unan, general manager at the resort, which has a music theme. Staff here are known as band members, in keeping with the rock 'n' roll concept.
“When the first guest got off the boat yesterday, we were so happy. One band member shouted, ‘Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends, come inside, come inside,’” added Unan. The hotel has introduced a new Safe and Sound policy designed to protect guests from the virus.
Similar enhanced hygiene schemes are being implemented on all islands where resorts have reopened. All staff have been tested for the virus and some resorts, such as the uber-luxurious Soneva Jani and Soneva Fushi, are carrying out coronaviurs tests on guests when they arrive, in a bid to create Covid-free islands.
Taj Hotels has reopened two resorts in the archipelago. Taj Exotica and Taj Coral Reef Resort and Spa are welcoming guests again with enhanced safety protocols, including high-grade protective equipment for staff and disinfectant being used to ensure all areas are clean.
Emirates and Etihad resume flights
Emirates and Etihad Airways have both announced they are flying to the Maldives again. The first Emirates flight departed Dubai on Thursday and the airline will fly five times per week to the archipelago until August.
From Abu Dhabi, Eithad flights resume on Saturday, with two flights per week throughout July. Sri Lankan Airlines has also resumed flights and several other airlines are set to resume flying to the Maldives from August.
Although the Maldives has reopened to tourists, strict measures remain in place across the islands and a public health emergency is in place until at least Friday, August 7. The country has recorded more than 2,800 cases of Covid-19, with 30 new cases reported on Thursday.
A nightly curfew is in force in the capital, and the airport closes every day from midnight until 6am. Travellers need special permission to journey to the airport during this time. On the islands, there is no curfew, but travel between islands is only allowed with a 14-day quarantine period. These restrictions are set to be lifted on Saturday, August 1, when travellers will be able to island-hop again.
Many tourists were stranded in the Maldives when the country halted all international flights in March as part of measures designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Among them were a Dubai couple, who stayed at Paradise Island Resort & Spa in Lankanfinolhu North Island 105 days . The pair finally returned home this week after settling their Dh50,000 hotel bill.