I’m sitting on a lounger at a Maldivian resort’s overwater restaurant taking in views of the glimmering Arabian Sea, but I feel uneasy.I’m not wearing a mask, nor are the other guests, or staff.Not that there’s a need to: everyone on the palm-fringed private island of Soneva Fushi has been tested for Covid-19 upon arrival, then quarantined in their own villa until they receive fresh negative results.I’m able to roam the island freely and defy the six-feet minimum social distance measures the world’s been accustomed to since the beginning of 2020.For just a few days in this Indian Ocean paradise, things feel back to normal in a wildly abnormal year — but this shift takes some getting used to.
Maldives: Now open to all
The Maldives is one of the few holiday destinations open to international tourists right now — Americans included.The 1,200-island nation reopened its borders in July with no testing or quarantine mandates, then changed course in September to require negative Covid-19 test results for all incoming travelers (96 hours before departure). An online Traveler Health Declaration form also needs to be completed 24 hours before take-off.Statistically, the Maldives has got its coronavirus situation under control, with under 13,000 cases and 46 total deaths since the pandemic began. It was declared a “safe destination” by the World Travel and Tourism Council on September 15.Like all countries heavily reliant on tourism, it’s been hit hard by the crisis. According to the World Bank, tourism directly and indirectly accounts for two-thirds of the country’s GDP.The industry flourished in 2019 as visitor arrivals grew by 14.7% (year on year), with total arrivals reaching a record 1.7 million. Officials were hoping they’d hit 2 million arrivals this year.
Writer Travis Levius flew with Qatar Airways, one of a dozen or so airlines offering flights to the Maldives right now. Face sheilds and masks are mandatory while boarding.Travis LeviusIn a statement issued in May, Ali Waheed, the country’s minister for tourism, described the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as “more devastating than the 2004 tsunami and the 2008 global financial crisis.”Therefore, it’s not surprising it was among the first countries to reopen.My journey began at New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport, where I boarded a Qatar Airways flight — it’s one of a dozen or so airlines now servicing the Maldives capital, Male.
While the Maldives has a set of rules for entry, Qatar Airways has its own, too: passengers departing from any high-risk country — including the United States, Brazil, India and the Philippines — must present a PCRCovid-negative test at check-in.Note the emphasis on “PCR”: I’ve seen would-be passengers at JFK denied boarding passes because they provided a rapid test, and it wasn’t pretty.During boarding, Qatar Airways passengers must wear their mask and a face shield, which they provide complimentary at the gate.I did the New York to Doha leg in economy class on a half-empty plane, having a whole row to myself. I then flew in the Qsuites, Qatar Airways’ business -class offering, for the final leg to Malé.