Minister: New variant won't have major impacts on tourism; will lose about 1,500 tourists

Tourism Minister Dr. Abdulla Mausoom. (Sun Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

Tourism Minister Dr. Abdulla Mausoom, on Sunday, has stated that there is hope that the tourism industry operations will not be majorly impacted, and will continue as it is, despite the new COVID-19 variant – adding that the Maldivian health sector is well prepared.

Maldives has imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and six other countries from the region following the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern, Omicron, in those countries.

The seven countries which had travel bans imposed on them are South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Eswatini. 

Speaking to Sun regarding the possible impacts on the tourism industry subsequently, Minister Mausoom said that the tourism industry partners are well prepared to carry out their operations with such an obstruction. Therefore, he said that it is hoped that the tourism industry operations will continue as it is, without much impact on it.

“But this can only happen depending on how much the new variant is spreading in other countries – and what scientists say regarding it as well as how such countries manage their borders,” he added.

Detailing that approximately 1,500 tourists arrive from these countries on an average per month – Minister Mausoom said that this was fairly a large amount.

Noting that the highest peak season of the tourism industry is upcoming, he said that actions necessary to ensure the smooth operations of the industry within this time, will be taken. He stressed that it is important to ensure that flight operations remain uninterrupted as well.

“Scientists are unsure whether or not vaccination immunizes against the new variant. By god’s will, vaccination of all within Maldives is almost complete,” he added.

Minister Mausoom said that the Maldives has achieved many successes without the vaccine. However, he added that the tourism industry which was in slumps prior to receiving COVID-19 vaccine for the country – had only boosted following vaccination.

Minister Mausoom also said that Maldives is very well prepared compared to before. However, he added that there is a chance for the new variant to adversely impact the industry, nevertheless.

Omicron, first reported from South Africa on November 24, has been classified by World Health Organization (WHO) as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant Delta variant.   

Omicron’s actual risks are not understood. WHO said that early evidence suggests it carries an increased risk of reinfection compared with other highly transmissible variants. That means people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.  

Medical experts, including the WHO, has warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied.