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AFP
May 13, 2021

Maldives bans travel from South Asia as virus cases soar

AFP
May 13, 2021

Rich Indians can no longer escape their country’s raging pandemic by holidaying in the Maldives, after the island paradise said Wednesday it would ban travel from South Asia as it battles a surge in Covid-19 infections.

The Indian Ocean holiday destination reopened its tourist resorts in July last year after halting international flights for more than three months at the start of the pandemic. But the atoll nation of 340,000 people has been grappling with a jump in cases, including a record single-day rise of 1,500 on Tuesday -- compared with less than 100 cases just one month ago.

Countries in South Asia, including its largest neighbour India, have been hit by a massive and deadly new wave of infections. "The government of Maldives has decided to temporarily suspend the issuance of tourist visas for travellers originating from South Asian countries -- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka," the tourism ministry said.

The indefinite travel ban would also apply to travellers who spend more than 24 hours transiting in the listed countries, or who had visited them in the previous 14 days, the ministry added. Indians have been the largest single group of visitors to the archipelago this year.

Bollywood stars who had travelled from India in recent weeks include Alia Bhatt, her partner Ranbir Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor, who posted Instagram photos of herself doing yoga at sunset at a Maldives resort.

Travellers from other countries are still permitted to travel to the Maldives’ resort islets with a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours before arrival, but are not permitted to have contact with the local population.

The upmarket tourist spot earlier this week suspended the entry of work permit holders from South Asia. A night curfew from 9:00 pm to 4:00 am was extended to start at 4:00 pm, as part of measures to slow the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, a full, independent public inquiry into the British government’s handling of its response to the coronavirus pandemic will be held early next year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday.

The country had "found itself in the teeth of the gravest pandemic for a century" and the state has "an obligation to examine its actions as rigorously and as candidly as possible and to learn every lesson for the future", he told lawmakers.

Britain has been hit hard by the outbreak, with more than 127,000 deaths since March last year -- the world’s fifth highest official toll, according to data collected by AFP -- raising questions about why it has fared worse than other nations.

Johnson told parliament the inquiry would be established on a "statutory basis", with oral evidence given under oath and powers to "compel the production of all relevant materials". He added he expected the inquiry, which is likely last over a year, will begin in the spring of 2022.

The government in London will work with the UK’s devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to determine the scope of the inquiry. Johnson’s government has rebuffed months of calls for a wide-reaching investigation into its handling of the pandemic, saying it would hamper the ongoing response.

But months of lockdown restrictions are being eased, and the number of cases of Covid-19 and deaths has fallen sharply, as a mass vaccination campaign continues apace. Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer called for the inquiry to start "as soon as possible".

Johnson, however, said the start had to be delayed so it did not "weigh down the efforts of those engaged in protecting us every day". The events of the last year needed to be looked at in the "cold light of day", he added.

Johnson’s leadership has come under particular scrutiny since the start of the outbreak. He has been accused of being too slow to impose a nationwide lockdown measures to contain the virus at the outset, and too fast to lift restrictions once the first wave passed.

There were also initial problems with the supply of protective equipment to frontline workers, testing capacity, and glitches in an app to trace Covid contacts. Johnson has denied that he dismissed the prospect of a wave of Covid-19 deaths, after reports he had said he would rather see "bodies pile high in their thousands" than impose a third coronavirus lockdown.

Ultimately, Johnson did order a new round of restrictions in January. Johnson’s former top aide Dominic Cummings has publicly called into question his ex-boss’ judgement at key moments during the pandemic. He is due to give evidence to a separate parliamentary inquiry into the government’s Covid response later this month.