Spike in COVID-19 within population points to nation's myopic point of view

Due to the recent spike the CDC has now rated the Maldives' COVID-19 levels as ‘Very High’

MFR Image / Graphic

MFR Image / Graphic

With a fourth of the Maldives' population living in the crowded Greater Malé Region, a rapid spread of COVID-19 is a terrifying prospect for the region's healthcare professionals especially given the dwindling resources when compared to the increasing numbers of the infected. 
Recent statistics indicate that the spike of cases is also spreading across the atolls with a weekly average of 500 cases altogether. All factors considered, the US CDC has now rated the COVID-19 level in the Maldives to be ‘Very High’.

Source: https://covid19.health.gov.mv/dashboard

Ever since the first case of COVID-19 was identified, the Maldives was one of the few countries successful in flattening the curve. By implementing various preventative measures early on, the number of new cases was lowered to an average of 30 cases per day by mid-September 2020. Businesses and resorts were able to re-open following the new normal guidelines. Locals were allowed to travel nationwide and resume public activities.

The tourism industry welcomed a total of 555,494 tourists in 2020. The Maldives was considered a suitable destination for a lockdown-getaway, with its one-island, one-resort concept. Even with the lockdown in Malé, most islands and resorts were able to fully mitigate the virus which aided in domestic tourism while also allowing to accommodate international tourists. 
However, the current reality indicates a rapid rise in cases amongst the atolls. At the current speed of infection, and without mass testing in these areas, the death toll could rise drastically with people having inadequate access to healthcare.

The reason for the sudden change in circumstances may be difficult to pin down specifically. Nevertheless, mass gatherings for political campaigning, and protests, have been a mainstay over the last few months. As the debate of holding the nation's council elections grew heated, a large percentage of the MDP-majority parliament saw it fit to proceed with voting without heed to fervent public, and professional, concerns of safety.

Many, during the voting process, witnessed the lack of compliance with Health Protection Agency (HPA) guidelines at voting centres. Political parties were pushing for all eligible voters, including those who had tested positive and were in quarantine, to also vote. This was the reality across all regions of the country during the elections.

On the other hand, a significant number of locals travelled abroad for year end holidays. Even though home quarantine was mandatory after travelling back home, few conformed to this rule. Meanwhile, social gatherings such as wedding parties and events, also went ahead, largely unchecked over the past few months — the HPA reported a cluster of 102 positive cases from a single wedding reception held in Malé. 
Many continued to neglect social distancing guidelines and proper mask etiquette during social settings. With the ease of restrictions, sports activities and tournaments resumed in almost every island.

All of this combined still might not provide an exhaustive list of reasons for the current rapid spread. However, there has been significant disregard towards stringent recommendations of health professionals, along with a number of individuals and groups undermining the authorities, and the science, behind the spread of COVID-19 and vaccinations. Add to this the shameful burying of heads under the sand while holding public events. 
With a population of just 515,494 inhabitants living across scattered islands, the Maldives is geographically at an advantage in preventing the spread of the virus. This large an increase in daily cases, now over 500 daily, should not have happened.

“A common misconception we have is that COVID-19 is only a respiratory disease. COVID-19 is a disease that affects a lot of organs in our body. People take different durations to recover depending on their age, long-term medication and severity of the disease. Symptoms of fatigue, headache and dizziness can last for two to three months after recovery. It also triggers psychological issues. Hence, I would like to say that COVID-19 is not a simple virus. This is a severe disease-causing virus”
 Dr. Nasheedha Saeed, Specialist in Internal Medicine.

The novel coronavirus is inevitable. The inevitable hypothesis by health professionals is that in the end, everyone will be either infected with the virus or will have built immunity through vaccination. However, the importance of flatten the curve, to ensure the health sector does not collapse with a rapid swell in the rate of infection, cannot be understated. 
For a country with limited resources & capacity and an economy overly reliant on tourism for income & imports for even the most basic of needs, further spikes will prove dire.

The authorities need to, at least in this moment, look at the bigger picture that is staring them right in the face. Like vaccines being administered to the public to mitigate the spread, and the fallout, of COVID-19, the government and the authorities need to swallow the bitter pill of socio-economic vaccination; if the nation does not stop the spread now, if decision makers do not act firmly and decisively to halt this disease in its tracks, there is the very real threat that the nation will continue to lose lives, that the Maldives may lose its credibility as a responsible tourism destination and that the damage from the resulting economic fallout might well be insurmountable.

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