Beloved citizens and the journalists present here today.
I address you today to present an overview of the precautionary measures the Government is taking to safeguard the Maldives from the rapidly spreading, global pandemic, COVID-19.
First and foremost I would like to thank all our healthcare professionals for their ongoing work to combat this disease.
I also convey my appreciation for the coordinated response measures the National Task Force is undertaking, under the guidance of the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), and in coordination with 46 other agencies, in order to contain COVID-19.
Moreover, I convey my appreciation to the beloved citizens of the Maldives for their patience, cooperation and assistance during these difficult times. I also sincerely thank Maldivian journalists for their hard work in covering developments regarding this virus.
Soon after the virus began spreading in China, from the 6th of January, this Government began preparing and implementing nation-wide protective measures. In light of the rapidly changing circumstances, and based on the advice of our healthcare experts, the Government continues to build upon existing measures and add new ones as and when required. It is our healthcare experts that have the first and last say regarding this matter; the Government’s role is to facilitate the implementation of the experts’ recommendations.
Accordingly, I urge our beloved citizens to follow the directions issued by healthcare professionals. They work in order to protect you. In return, your task is to stay at home and refrain from going outside.
I am aware that the Government’s protective measures against this virus severely disrupts daily routines. However, we must all recognize that these measures are being implemented for everyone’s safety. Additional steps will also be taken in relation to the evolving situation.
I have therefore decided that Government offices will remain closed for an additional week, starting from next Sunday. Schools, universities and colleges will also remain closed during this period.
Additionally, the issuance of on-arrival visas to the Maldives will be temporarily suspended from the 27th of March. Furthermore, resort staff will be allowed to travel out of the resort islands, 14 days after the departure of the last guest from that particular resort.
Among the 13 people who tested positive for this virus in the Maldives, by the grace of Almighty Allah, 8 have made full recoveries, and the remaining 5 continue to recover. However, this is no reason to lower our guard.
I believe that the actions we have taken thus far have been effective. We must now give the highest priority to block all avenues through which this disease can enter and spread.
As a result of the pandemic, COVID-19, the Maldives’ tourism industry is experiencing significant losses. Local businesses are suffering major losses as well. All in all, I can say, the entire economy is suffering.
However, the Government is working towards minimizing the losses that people have to bear. I will detail a few specifics.
Amongst the loans issued by the Bank of Maldives (BML), the bank has decided to defer their repayment for up to 6 months, while extending a further 6 months to their repayment duration. When repayments resume after this duration, 20% will be reduced from the monthly repayments for the first 6 months afterwards.
BML has also decided to issue MVR 308 million from their reserves to resorts, guesthouses, and other local businesses.
Repayments to the loans issued by SME Development Finance Corporation (SDFC) to Small and Medium Enterprises and Agricultural industry that were to commence from March, have now been delayed for a period of 6 months. The interest for the 6 months has now been reduced to 4%. Furthermore, the Government has also decided to issue additional loans.
Moreover, repayments to Housing Scheme loans issued by the Housing Development Finance Corporation (HDFC) that were to be paid from April have also now been delayed for 6 months.
Even though tourism has declined and there is a reduction in foreign currency the Government will work to sustain the present exchange rate in relation to the US Dollar. As such, the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) is now providing additional foreign currency to the banks.
In addition to the financial relief measures mentioned earlier, the Government has now initiated a MVR 2.5 billion economic stimulus package. This stimulus package will provide financial support for the businesses experiencing economic loss as a result of COVID-19. Preparations are currently underway to issue loans through the BML and SDFC. God willing, the announcement to submit loan applications will be made available within the next week.
Moreover, the Government will subsidize 40% from electricity bills and 30% from water bills issued in the months of April and May across all Maldivian households.
Internet usage has increased significantly at this time, and I believe that this needs addressing. God willing, we will share information in relation to this issue within the next few days.
The Government has allocated a special package to aid yellowfin tuna fisheries. We have begun to issue loans to companies involved in the purchase and export of yellowfin tuna. Pole and Line Fishing has significantly improved during these days. Thus, the Government will issue monetary incentives to fishermen during this time.
Despite the many challenges we face at this critical time, the Government has decided to provide financial assistance for individual citizens and businesses in order to sustain the economy. This is to ensure the continuous flow of currency and rising incomes.
Ramadan will be upon us within a month. Farmers are growing crops in preparation for this season. Considering the transportation difficulties at hand, the Government is working in collaboration with STO to establish a trading platform to enable farmers to sell their fresh produce to consumers. More information on buying local produce will be made available by STO in the coming week or so.
The Government has also resolved to ease student loan repayment in response to the current situation. Over 4000 individuals are currently liable to repay student loans. The Government has therefore arranged to introduce 6 months of debt relief for all student loan debtors. This will have no effect on the current student loan scheme.
We have been receiving generous support from international financial institutions to help manage our affairs. As such, we have received USD 10 million from the World Bank. Further discussions are underway with ADB and OPEC, IDB, AIIB and others.
Looking at the STO’s March sales figures for staples, every island should currently have sufficient stocks to last another month. STO is working on securing stocks of rice and sugar for the next 10 months, as well as flour for the next 5 months, by 15 April.
STO also assures that fuel products will be available for purchase with no difficulties.
I thank all our local businesspeople, resort owners and non-profit parties who contribute towards our effort to tackle COVID-19. I also wish to thank the governments and the people of our friendly bilateral partners, for their generous support and assistance.
This is the time to unite and work in harmony. We must take special note at this time to care and support those who are elderly, have mental illnesses, those who depend on others for assistance and, children during these times.