Blocked in Maldives by travel restrictions from coronavirus

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Olivia and Raul De Freitas are currently on their honeymoon in a five-star resort in the Maldives, a nation made up of more than a thousand idyllic small islands in the Indian Ocean, like a trail of broken crystals scattered on a blue glass slab. . For years, the subject of fantastic photos spread through glossy magazines, featuring luxury bungalows on stilts, in unreal aquamarine water, it was an obvious choice for their romantic getaway.



Maldives Beach


© getty
Maldives Beach

The couple arrived just married from South Africa, where they are citizens, on Sunday March 22, planning to stay for six days. For a 27-year-old teacher and a 28-year-old butcher, the party “was an extravagance,” said De Freitas. But since they had not lived together before exchanging their vows, it would be a small firecracker to launch their marriage.

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Still, they had concerns about travel, given the growing travel restrictions imposed in light of the new epidemic of coronavirus around the world. But nothing specific that would affect them had been announced, and their travel agent assured them that, whatever the policy ahead, all South African citizens would be allowed to return home. Go ahead and have a good time, they were told.

On Wednesday, they were informed that their country’s airports would be closed at midnight on Thursday. Return flights to South Africa are five hours to Doha, Qatar, a three-hour layover, then nine hours to Johannesburg – so even if they jammed, and even if they could take a flight, the complexity of leaving their remote island assured them would never get back on time.

As much of the world quickly stopped, the few other guests still at the resort last week fled to their respective countries. The last to leave, the Americans, had to fight for permission to fly to Russia before returning to the United States.

The couple planned to take the 1.5-hour speedboat trip to the main island and try their luck at the airport. But the Maldives also announced their own lockdown around the same time, banning any new foreign traveler. If they leave the complex, they may not be allowed to return. So they stayed.

Mr. De Freitas, described by his wife as a calm person, has taken the strange turn of events. Everything would be settled and, moreover, they were in heaven. De Freitas, of course, shared some of her husband’s joy, but sensed that a logistical nightmare worthy of Kafka was going to ensue.

They contacted the South African consulate in the Maldives and the nearest South African embassy in Sri Lanka for assistance. A representative told them, via WhatsApp, that there were about 40 other South Africans spread across the Maldives, and that their option would be to rent a charter jet, at their expense, for $ 104,000.

Anyone could share the costs, the message noted, but the government only communicated with about half of the 40 people; of these 20, many could not or refused to pay. The fewer people on board, the more expensive each action will be. Despite this, after several days of talks between South African officials and the Maldivian foreign ministry, the flight has still not been approved.

On Sunday, they were the only guests at their resort, the Cinnamon Velifushi Maldives, which is normally at full capacity at this time of year, welcoming some 180 guests. (“Room rates start at $ 750 a night,” says its website.) The entire complex covers the entire island. There is nowhere to go. The couple reigns like benign but captive sovereigns on their islet. The days are long and lazy. They sleep, snorkel, lounge by the pool, rehearse.

The complete staff of the complex is at hand, due to the presence of the two guests. Government regulations will not allow Maldivians to leave resorts until they have been quarantined after their last guests have left. Accustomed to the flow of a busy working day and engagement with a house full of guests, most of the staff, who became apathetic and lonely, constantly adore the couple. Their “maid” checks them five times a day. The catering team prepared an elaborate candlelit dinner on the beach for them. Every evening, artists always put on a show for them in the restaurant of the complex: two spectators alone in a large dining room.

At breakfast, nine waiters hang out at their table. Hostesses, bussers and assorted chefs circulate conspicuously, like commoners near a celebrity. The couple have a designated waiter, but others always chat during meals, topping up the glasses of water after each sip, offering drinks even if the overflowing cocktail glasses are in plain sight, sweating. The dive instructor begs them to snorkel whenever they pass it.

There is something hopeless, even disturbing, about wandering around in an empty space that is supposed to be full. Lying alone, in the middle of the silent and abandoned bank of beach chairs, the equatorial sun sparkles off the sea to the horizon, browning the skin and whitening the driftwood. “We started to play a lot of table tennis and billiards,” said De Freitas. De Freitas also started playing staff soccer games in the afternoon.

Somewhere, beyond all that, the world is moving. After an early panic and local quarantine around a sick tourist, there have been less than two dozen total cases of new coronavirus reported in the Maldives; the majority of those diagnosed have already recovered.

More recently, they had heard that flight authorizations were expected to be completed by Monday, April 6. It was an extension from April 1, so these dates just seem to be optimized in pencil. No matter: the last wrinkle, they were told, is that the crew of the Maldivian airline assigned to the charter will not fly anyway, needing to rest for a day before their flight back to the Maldives. But the South African government said if it landed, it would be quarantined there for 14 days. It is, apparently, a breach of contract. And a flight from their country of origin is not offered as an option.

The lockdown in South Africa is expected to last until April 16. But, as everywhere, the decrees on displacements and displacements are in constant evolution.

“It is amazing that we are getting this extra time,” said De Freitas. But the financial results weigh heavily on them. Although the couple paid a generously reduced rate, the bill is increasing. Each passing day is a chip taken from their savings that had been set aside for a housing down payment.

To their growing endless honeymoon debt, they can add the unknown price of two tickets on what could be an almost vacant 200-seat jet. “Everyone says they want to be stuck on a tropical island, until you are actually stuck,” said De Freitas. “It only looks good because you know you can leave.” “

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