The ban, effective Thursday, will be in place until further notice as Maldives tries to control a surge in coronavirus cases, which jumped from around 100 new cases in mid-April to 1,572 on Wednesday.
Maldives was one of the first countries to fully reopen to tourists last year, and in recent weeks it has become a popular refuge for wealthy Indians, including Bollywood stars, whose luxury vacation snaps provoked anger at home.
The travel ban doesn’t apply to people already in the archipelago, but it will frustrate the plans of those who had hoped of a potential escape to Maldives.
A medical worker swabs a man for a Covid-19 test in Male in June, 2020.
Ahmed Shurau/AFP/Getty Images
As India sank deeper into a Covid-19 crisis that began in mid-March, a number of Bollywood entertainers reportedly left the country.
They were not alone. This year, India has become the largest source of tourists to Maldives. From January to March, almost 70,000 Indians visited the country — double the number of Indian holidaymakers who traveled to the islands in the whole of 2020, according to the Ministry of Tourism.
The cost of flying to Maldives from India rose sharply in April, as countries began to impose travel bans to and from India. Commercial flight prices rose more than fourfold as international restrictions limited travel options, said Rajan Mehra, CEO of Club One Air, an air charter company based in India.
Some individuals paid more than $65,000 for a one-way ticket for a charter flight to Maldives in April, Mehra added.
In the early weeks of April, several Bollywood stars posted sunny beach photos and vacation shots on social media — angering the Indian public and film industry figures who accused them of flaunting their wealth at a difficult time for many poorer Indians.
It appears some may be listening.
Since paparazzi images purported to show her leaving India for Maldives, Bhatt has shared helpline numbers for non-government organizations and state governments on her social media accounts. In one post in late April she said India was facing “a time of great uncertainty.”
Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt at the 20th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards in Mumbai, September 2019.
Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images
Covid spreads in India’s neighbors
Maldives’ economy is heavily reliant on tourism — before the pandemic, the islands welcomed 1.7 million visitors in 2019.
While many other destinations shut their borders, the Maldives chose to fully reopen to travelers from any country in July 2020.
By May, Maldives was introducing new restrictions. All new arrivals were required to show proof of a negative test taken within 96 hours of their departure for the islands. Then, visitors from South Asia were only allowed to stay on inhabited islands. Mehra, the air charter CEO, said that had reduced demand for charter flights to the destination.
People line up to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in Male, Maldives, on March 15, 2021.
Cases have skyrocketed in Nepal to the north and Sri Lanka to the south. And it’s not just India’s neighbors — further away in Southeast Asia, case numbers are also rising in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.
The rapid spread of the virus has placed enormous pressure on the countries’ health systems and medical supplies, and some have called for international assistance.
But a handful countries in the region have been relatively unscathed by India’s second wave — and remain open for visitors.
Maldives’ restrictions mean many wealthy Indians are now looking elsewhere for a getaway — and Dubai is emerging as a top alternative destination, with bookings increasing by up to 10% in recent weeks, said Mehra. Some customers have paid up to $1,400 for a ticket — five times what it normally costs on a commercial flight, Mehra said.
The Maldives travel ban aside, similar flight restrictions from other countries could also be driving the increase in traffic to Dubai, he added.
CNN’s Nectar Gan and Swati Gupta contributed to this report.