When tourist resorts reopened in mid-July, tourist guesthouses remained closed. Main reason was that while tourist resorts are built on self-contained islands with no regular access to local population, guesthouses are on inhabited islands in the midst of local residents with ready access. This reality weighed against guesthouses when borders were reopened and tourism restarted in July.
With Covid positivity rate coming down to safer levels (estimated to be at 5%), government has now decided that guesthouses in all islands except Male region may be reopened from 15 October onwards – but with strict protocols for public health protection of all – tourists, staff and local residents alike.
The government has published public health interventions on 28 September 2020 containing detailed guidance for tourist guesthouses. While there are similarities in some aspects with guidelines applicable to tourist resorts especially in areas like transportation of guests and handling of their luggage, there are measures specific to guesthouses given their inherent locale of operation.
Here is a quick summary of key takeaways.
Arrival / Departures
A tourist visiting the Maldives (to stay in a guesthouse) is required to carry a Covid negative result from a test that was done at least within 72 hours of arriving in the country. Before leaving the country too, he/she is required to undergo a similar Covid test within 72 hours of before departure. If his/her next destination after Maldives requires a test to be done within a certain timeframe (so as to be allowed entry into that other country), that test ought to be completed within that timeframe.
An important note is that these tests are done at the cost and expense of the guesthouse – and not the government.
Island councils working with island level Covid taskforces are given a good deal of responsibility – most of them supervisory or regulatory.
As for councils, they are to ensure that
– tourist guesthouses are operated not in dwellings where locals live or stay;
– there is a sufficient number of rooms dedicated for use as isolation rooms or quarantine rooms– in case they are required. Again, these facilities may not be at dwellings where locals live; but they may be at repurposed buildings.
– while isolation and quarantine facilities are to be arranged at the cost of the guesthouses, the council and island health facilities are to be responsible for the provision of treatment and medical care – at the cost of the guesthouse.
– a minimum requirement for isolation and quarantine rooms is decided in proportion to total number of tourist beds on the island. For example, if tourist beds on the island are under 100, the quarantine /isolation rooms can be under 5; if tourist beds are between 100 -500, the quarantine/isolation rooms should be 8; and if there are over 500 tourist beds, there ought to be at least 15 rooms for quarantine/isolation purposes.
As for the technical side of things, there should be a Covid 19 taskforce on the island that is “functional”. The operative word is functional. The taskforce is to update health protection authority on suspected or confirmed cases, test and trace, isolate confirmed cases and quarantine suspected cases.
The taskforce is to ensure that there is human capacity at appropriate levels to carry out these functions including enough qualified manpower to collect samples.
The taskforce is to run a flu clinic. The health facility on the island should have adequate facilities and resources to cater for the situation where tests can be done, patients can be kept on observation until transferred to a regional facility.
Safe Plan / Approval
Guesthouses would have to apply for a permit to operate. MOT would grant the permit only if the guesthouse, the council and island taskforce have met requirements of the protocol.
When applying for a permit, the applicant guesthouse must submit a Covid safe plan that addresses some minimum requirements: appointment of a designated focal point to act as liaison, assigning a temporary isolation room for suspected cases; implementation of infection prevention measures; display of public health messaging on physical distancing, hand hygiene, and face coverings; arrangements for laundry and waste disposal, cleaning, disinfection, basic PPE and the like – all this is primarily to ensure that the guesthouse is ready to deal with a suspected or confirmed case on their facility.
Staff are advised to wear a separate uniform for work, to shower and change at the facility before returning to their dwellings. Also, the staff are encouraged to do their laundries at the guesthouse rather than at home.
There are certain requirements to be made available at the reception area including the supply of sanitizers.
Luggage handling, tourist movements, gyms and dive centers, excursions, fishing trips, waste disposal, cleaning and disinfection – all have requirements which are largely similar to those applicable to resorts.
Wearing a face covering in public places is made mandatory for all islands with tourist guesthouses. The rule applies to staff and tourists alike.
Tourists must not enter residential dwellings.
While tourists are allowed to use public cafes, restaurants and shops on the islands, all these outlets should have proper disinfection measures in place.
Movements /Exit Screening
Tourists can travel between islands with guesthouses and resorts or between two islands where guesthouses are operated. However, they cannot travel between islands with guesthouses to islands without guesthouses or even to a liveaboard vessel.
Where a tourist leaves an island with a guesthouse to a resort or another island with a guesthouse, an exit screening ought to be done to ensure that none leaves the island with symptoms or risks of exposure.
If a tourist or staff at the guesthouse develops Covid symptoms, they are to be isolated until medical checks are completed.
If a tourist turns symptomatic, he/she ought to be isolated in the isolation room at the guesthouse while the staff must self-isolate at his/her residence.
When a tourist’s test turns negative, he/she may be released from isolation but must take sufficient precautions for 48 hours after symptoms have cleared.
If a tourist turns Covid positive, the island health facility will attend to his/her care, and triage the tourist for appropriate grade of care taking into account his/her complaints along with his/her comorbidities (if any). They may at times be transferred to a regional facility or a national facility.
It is important to note that all costs and expenses associated with all aspects of care testing and delayed departure of the tourist are on the relevant guesthouse.
Some of these represent the new reality in which we are to operate. Some of these measure may sound awfully cumbersome.
However, there are three primary factors behind this detailed protocol for guesthouses: ensure that the guesthouse and the island are adequately prepared to limit the chances of anyone catching Covid; install appropriate measures on the guesthouse and the island to manage cases if suspected or found; and prevent the local population on the island from getting infected by limiting the overall bubble.
Photo: Courtesy AR