Two years ago, on March 12, 2020, the Maldives declared its first State of Public Health Emergency. This was a measure taken in response to community transmission of COVID-19 in the Maldives, to protect the people from contracting the virus that had been spreading rapidly elsewhere around the world.
We have faced a lot of hardship and difficulties in the past two years with COVID-19. There is not a single family in the Maldives that has not been directly or indirectly affected by the damaging impact of COVID-19. Even now, there are many people among us who are suffering from the indirect effects of COVID-19. So far, 297 people have died from this disease.
I pray to Almighty Allah to bless them all and grant them eternal life in paradise. I also pray for a speedy recovery for all those suffering from COVID-19.
With the COVID-19 outbreak in the Maldives, we took strong protective steps early on to contain the spread of the disease. As a result, the Maldives was among the top nations with the most effective COVID-19 control measures in place, facilitating the early commencement of economic and social activities.
Like other countries in the world, the Maldives’ COVID-19 response measures are geared towards protecting those at high risk of contracting the virus and reducing the number of deaths and hospitalisations. We have been closely monitoring the evolving COVID-19 situation while ensuring that essential services are provided without interruption.
Therefore, from today onwards, the State of Public Health Emergency declared in the Maldives to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has been brought to an end on the advice of health experts. The Ministry of Health will communicate the details of the next course of action.
A system will be established in the Maldives to assess the COVID-19 situation in the country. We already have in place a genetic sequence testing system to determine the type of COVID-19 virus that spreads in the country. Emerging changes will be identified and appropriate measures will be taken in response to the situation.
Many countries still consider COVID-19 as a pandemic. It is important that we stay vigilant to act swiftly should a new variant of concern emerge. The Ministry of Health will formulate and operationalize a national strategy and action plan that will serve to respond to the transmission of COVID-19 from here on.
As COVID-19 brought countries’ economic activities to a halt, the greatest economic burden was expected to befall on the Maldives. It is estimated that our economy incurred around MVR 71.3 billion in economic losses within the past two years. Despite trying times, the Government’s foremost priority was to ease the hardship borne by the citizens. The Government provided all the support it could lend through various means.
Discounts on electricity and water bills were granted to households. An income support allowance was given to those who lost their jobs and those whose salaries were reduced. A moratorium on loan repayments was introduced. A stimulus package targeted to businesses was introduced on the condition their staff have guaranteed job security. Social security was provided for those in need of it. Resort lease payments were deferred to a later date.
As the State of Public Health Emergency is lifted today, the Maldives is among five countries that financial institutions have forecasted would experience the highest economic growth rates this year. The Government’s protective measures to curb COVID-19 and the steady cooperation of the Maldivian people played a key role to reach the present point.
At the same time, we must take note of the grit and hope of the Maldivians and our business people who worked tirelessly to revive the economy. The greatest strength towards our collective efforts was derived from the sacrifices of the frontline workers in the health sector. The invaluable contributions of Maldives National Defence Force, Maldives Police Service, other agencies and volunteers to implement the COVID-19 emergency measures.
On behalf of all Maldivians, and in my own name, I wish to offer them all our warm thanks and appreciation. I also wish to thank, on behalf of all Maldivians, our friendly bilateral partners who assisted our COVID-19 response efforts. I take this opportunity to highlight India, Japan, USA, UAE, China, Bangladesh, WHO and some of the UN agencies for their support.
In the last two years, India has generously aided us on many occasions. India donated the most number of vaccines. India purchased financial bonds worth USD 250 million to help recover our economy. We received a lot of equipment from India essential to provide health services. At the same time, a travel corridor was enacted between our countries to ensure continued tourist arrivals.
India also eased up access for Maldivians needing urgent health care, allowing them to travel to the country. This privilege was not afforded to any other country besides the Maldives.
Even though we are bringing an end to the State of Public Health Emergency with the grace of Almighty Allah, we must not forget the lessons we have learned from the last two years. It is important to maintain the good health habits we learnt to protect ourselves from this disease.
As we emerge from the lows posed by COVID and take a breath of relief, there is another dark cloud approaching us in the form of the dangerous war initiated by Russia in Ukraine. The shocks from this conflict are reverberating all across the globe.
Though the conflict is happening in faraway Europe, we in the Maldives would nevertheless feel its effects. Russia and Ukraine are amongst the top source markets for our tourism industry. The economic impacts of this would be felt both far and near.
Our stand on the Ukraine conflict is clear. The essence of our foreign policy is based on the idea of sovereignty. It is the fundamental building block of modern international relations and clearly articulated in the charter of the United Nations. As a small island nation, we have long championed the idea of protecting the sovereignty of small or less powerful nations. This is a principle we hold dear.
By joining 141 nations on the 2nd of this month at the UN General Assembly, in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, demanding an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal from Ukraine, the Maldives reiterates our call for the protection of the freedom and sovereignty of relatively less powerful small states.
This is a heartbreaking moment for Ukrainian citizens. I extend my sympathy to them in the face of these atrocities. The Maldives joins the calls of the international community for both countries to return to the negotiation table and resolve their disputes through diplomacy.
It will take years for Ukraine to recover from this war, no matter how and when it ends. It will also take time to offset the impact of this war on the global economy. Therefore, the Government is taking necessary measures to mitigate the damages caused by the crisis in Ukraine.
One such measure is to continue the efforts to evacuate the Maldivians residing in areas affected by the war who wish to return home. The other is to find a way for those Maldivian students who have returned from Ukraine to complete their studies as there is no guarantee when they can go back to Ukraine. This is currently being done by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the Ministry of Higher Education.
Presently, the Ministry of Finance is preparing an estimate of the potential damage to the Maldivian economy if this war worsens and putting together an apt response for it.
Aside from this, the Ministry of Tourism and Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) are currently researching the expected changes to the Maldivian tourism in the wake of the war in Ukraine. At the same time, they are working to explore other tourism markets.
Before concluding my speech, I would like to share one more thing with the beloved people of the Maldives. A week ago, I returned from Singapore following a thyroid surgery. With the grace of Almighty Allah, I am doing well. My family and I would like to express our sincere gratitude to those who prayed for me during this time.
May Almighty Allah bless us with success in our efforts to return to normalcy. May the Maldives be blessed with prosperity, stability and peace. Ameen.