As Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a SAARC conference to combat the unprecedented outbreak of deadly coronavirus on March 15, Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih not only thanked the former for “a timely call for regional initiative” but also mentioned that “no country on its own can succeed in combating the virus”. PM Modi led the conference as the confirmed cases in the country surpass 100 and have also witnessed two deaths, while as of Sunday, Maldives has 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
While also mentioning that it was Maldives who had called for a SAARC meeting back in 2003, Maldivian President mentioned that they are “fortunate” to have received assistance from India and also conveyed his appreciation to PM Modi who led the entire conference and welcomed all leaders of SAARC. Meanwhile, PM Modi highlighted that as developing countries, the outbreak has posed certain challenges and therefore all countries should 'prepare, act, succeed together'.
Solih also mentioned that the outbreak is showing “most destructive measure” in the Maldives because of its vulnerability to external measures and added that the country's tourist arrivals started to decrease few weeks before the first case was detected on March 7. In February, Maldivian President said arrivals declined by 14.3 per cent and already in the first ten days of March the arrivals have declined by 22.8 per cent. Moreover, if the sharp decline in tourism continues, Solih said there will be a 35 per cent drop in 2020 and the reduce in tourist arrivals has impact on Maldives' economy.
It is the tourism which contributes to more than 25 per cent of the Maldives economy and is the source of over 66.67 per cent of foreign currency into the country. Moreover, any job creation and revenue generation are directly or indirectly dependent on tourism and both China and Italy, which are severely hit by the deadly outbreak are number one and number three respectively source markets for Maldives' tourists. However, since arrivals from both the countries have been restricted, Maldives is experiencing “serious shortfall” in foreign currency earning, which is estimated to be $450 million.
Solih said, “If the foreign currency shortfall continues, it will have a detrimental impact on the Maldives economy, which has an extremely high dependency on imports. The revenue and foreign currency shortfall are also seriously hampering the Government’s ability to respond to COVID-19 rapidly.”
“The decline means serious shortage in total Government revenue. Current estimates show that if tourist arrivals continue to decline, Maldives will be looking at a shortfall in Government revenue between USD 135.9 million and USD 446.6 million this year. ,” he added.
PM Modi also elaborated on India's approach to the outbreak which has rocked the world since December 2019 and stated that the “guiding mantra” has been to “prepare but do not panic”. PM Modi also applauded the knee-jerk reactions along with proactive steps taken by the authorities. PM Modi also acknowledged that India had started screening the international arrivals by mid-January itself and gradually increased the travel restrictions. According to Modi, the “step-by-step” approach has helped the authorities to not create any panic while developing multiple facilities for pan-India testing of the fatal virus.