MALE, March 31 (Xinhua) -- Maldives has seen an overall reduction of COVID-19 cases, with more patients recovering than new ones being confirmed amid stringent precautionary measures taken by the government.
Maldives has 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19, out of which 13 patients have made a full recovery, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Health. Only one Maldivian citizen has been tested positive for the virus, with the remaining being foreign workers and tourists.
According to Health Minister Abdula Ameen, Maldives began preparing for a possible COVID-19 outbreak early by conducting a risk assessment, and forming a national response guideline and health emergency coordination committee by late January.
By February, Maldives made arrangements with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to receive 1000 testing kits so that testing for the virus could be conducted locally. Meanwhile, the main airport was fitted with thermal cameras to screen incoming passengers.
Maldives confirmed its first two COVID-19 cases on March 7, as two foreign workers at a resort on the island of Kuredu tested positive for the virus. A temporary lockdown was placed on the island as the government began carrying out more tests.
In the following days, the government took precautions including quarantining several resorts, closing parks and public spaces, disinfecting public transport, postponing the re-opening of schools, suspending political campaigns, halting tourist excursions, and banning guesthouses from checking-in foreigners in Greater Male.
On March 12, shortly after the World Health Organisation categorized COVID-19 as a pandemic, Maldives' Minister of Heath Abdulla Ameen declared a 30-day state of emergency for the first time in the country's history.
According to Maldives' Public Health Act, a State of Public Health Emergency grants the Director-General of Public Health special powers to quarantine individuals suspected of carrying an infectious disease, distribute medicines, close educational institutions, ban public gatherings and impose travel restrictions.
In a statement made on the same day, President Ibrahim Solih said the government was taking effective measures to protect citizens and residents from the virus in accordance with WHO standards. "This is the time to work in unity, with wisdom and consideration, and under the guidance and instructions of health professionals," Solih said.
On March 15, the government allocated 13.7 million U.S. dollars from its contingency budget to finance precautionary measures against the virus outbreak. The government also decided to reduce 64 million U.S. dollars from state expenses and slash the salaries of parliamentarians by 20 percent.
By March 21, the government had placed temporary travel bans on individuals arriving from COVID-19 affected countries including China, Iran, Italy, Bangladesh, Spain, Malaysia, Britain, the United States, Sri Lanka, parts of South Korea, France and Germany.
The Maldives stopped issuing visas on-arrival starting from March 27.
Social distancing precautions have been applied to all members of society including politicians and elected officials. On Monday, the Maldives Parliament conducted its sessions via a web conference call and will continue to do so until the outbreak is contained.
The government has so far set up three dedicated clinics for COVID-19 where consultation is free of charge. Additionally, there are a total of 17 isolation facilities and 867 quarantine facilities in the country.
All individuals under quarantine are to be tested for COVID-19 in compliance with the WHO recommendations of testing as many individuals as possible.
WHO representative to Maldives Dr. Arvind Mathur has commended the Maldives for its impressive and proactive efforts. In an interview with Maldives state-owned PSM News, Dr. Mathur said the government has done well to raise public awareness through press conferences and media.
According to the WHO, Maldives has a population of 428,000 and spends 13 percent of its GDP on healthcare.