As Indian hospitals forfeit and cremation centres run out of space, the country's rich overlook the scenes from their Maldives-bound private jets. This is nothing extraordinary, economic inequality is the least surprising thing about the hyper-globalised 21st century, but its neo-liberal ideals manifest in a reality the eyes beg to shy away from. Out of embarrassment, or fear, you ask? We'll let you decide.
The South Asian archipelagic state of the Maldives was a popular tourist destination before the pandemic, and as borders re-opened after initial scares, it was quick to climb back up to the top. Only that this time, the ones carrying the destination back to its lost glory have been India's elite. Since the country opened its borders to tourist in mid-July, India has contributed the most visitors. Recently, as India was ravaged by the virus, countries across the globe banned visitors from the world's largest democracy. The Maldives government, however, allowed them entry but made slight changes in policies for visitors from India.
As per the new policies, travellers arriving from India can now only stay at a resort or a safari boat and are not allowed to check into guesthouses on islands inhabited by locals.
"The geographical location of our islets help us to minimise the (virus) risk," Thoyyib Mohamed, the head of the country's tourism authority, Visit Maldives, told AFP.
"Each islet is a self-contained single resort. Even if we have a few cases popping up here and there, we can contain it within the resorts without exposing the local population."
Mohamed said that while the arrival of Indian tourists has seen a decline in the past week though they're still the most represented foreign group in their statistics. The country has long been a favourite of Bollywood stars, and most recently Alia Bhatt, her partner Ranbir Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor took trips to the Maldives, making regular updates via their social media. Private jet firms have found great business in India's wealthy during the ruthless spread of the virus at home, as they've witnessed a sharp surge in demands from tourists seeking to go to Europe, the Middle East and the Maldives.
"It’s not only the ultra rich," Rajan Mehra, head New Delhi-based private plane firm Club One Air told The Print. "Whoever can afford to take a private jet are taking private jets."
On Friday, India broke its own record, yet again, with over 386,000 cases reported, with approximately 3,500 people reported to have lost their lives. With these stats it is integral to also take note of the fact that these numbers are grossly underreported.
Tourism is Maldives largest industry, so it's not a surprise the island nation was quick to reopen borders in a bid to protect itself financially. The industry provides for more than 28% of GDP and 60% of foreign exchange, as reported by Global Edge at the Michigan State University.
"The Covid-19 pandemic is the largest shock to have ever hit the Maldives’ economy. The government closed borders between end-March to mid-July 2020, resulting in a sudden stop of tourist inflow. To mitigate the adverse welfare impacts of the crisis, the government spent $187 million or about 4.7 percent of estimated 2020 GDP on special financing facilities for firms and freelance workers, monthly income support allowances, and discounted utility bills," reads a World Bank report.
The nations aspires to be the first in the world with a fully vaccinated tourism industry. It has taken on the ambitious project of vaccinating its entire 50,000 workforce in the tourism and hospitality industries. Mohamed told the media that about 90% of the workers were already vaccinated. In addition to these workers, the nation's health ministry reports that two-thirds of its 330,000 people had also received their first doses of the vaccine.
Though the country is witnessing a spike in its cases, it has only reported approximately 30,000 cases since the pandemic broke out, and 73 deaths.