From June you can get to the Maldives – which plans Covid-19 shots for tourists – in 9 hours
- The Maldives is setting itself up as a vaccine tourism destination.
- As soon as its own population is vaccinated, the island nation will offer vaccines on arrival, its tourism minister says.
- There is no firm date, but the islands plan to have many of its tourist facilities open in July and August – on top of those already fully functioning.
- Air Seychelles plans to run a 9-hour flight to the Maldives from OR Tambo every week, starting in June.
- One-week package holidays are now on offer for less than R16,000.
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* This article has been updated below.
The Maldives island chain is setting itself up as a vaccine tourism destination – and from June, South Africans will be able to fly there in nine hours, and stay for a week, for about R16,000 all in.
The "vaccine on arrival" scheme was revealed by the country's tourism minister last this month. With a relatively small population, its vaccine supplies donated via India, China, and the World Health Organisation’s Covax scheme, plus additional doses from Singapore, should be sufficient to cover tourists too, minister Abdulla Mausoom told CNBC.
The Maldives was among the first major global tourist destinations to reopen to foreign visitors in 2020, helped by the fact that its widely distributed islands feature many isolated and luxurious retreats – where social isolation has always been part of the package.
But between shuttered airlines and entry restrictions, getting to the Maldives is tough and expensive for South Africans right now.
That is due to change soon. On 11 June, Air Seychelles is due to start flying from OR Tambo to the Maldives capital of Malé, in a journey that will take nine hours.
Air Seychelles is pricing economy seats on that flight at a little under $450 each way, for a return price of around R13,000.
The flight has a refuelling stop in the Seychelles, but because passengers never leave, South Africans are not affected by the Seychelles bans on visitors from this country.
See also | Seychelles says it is barring South Africans – and only South Africans – to keep Britain happy
The alternative is a 16-hour flight on Qatar Airways, via Doha. That airline re-instituted a heavy schedule of flights out of South Africa earlier this year, and South Africans in transit via Doha have remained welcome on such flights, even while not being allowed to leave the airport.
Return flights via Qatar are currently selling for around R16,000 per person.
The new Seychelles flights have been folded into package holidays that start at less than R16,000 per person for flights, accommodation, all meals, and transfers – for a week. For the recommended two-week wait between the first and second dose of many coronavirus vaccines, an extension will be required.
The Maldives currently requires a negative PCR test for all visitors, but it will be waiving that rule for fully vaccinated people soon.
From this week, there is no quarantine requirement for those travelling to an island in the chain where at least 60% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
Mausoom was not willing to commit to when, exactly, vaccine tourists will be able to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, saying only the initiative will start once the population of a little over half a million people have been vaccinated.
A formal target date has not been set for completing the vaccination drive, but the Maldivian government intends to have many of the country's tourist resorts open during July and August.
The global vaccine shortage may mean trouble for that plan – and for tourists expecting to receive vaccines on arrival. The Covax scheme is now seeing significant delays in delivery of doses, and it is not clear when those will be resolved.
* This article was updated after publication to include the planned Air Seychelles flight between OR Tambo and Malé, and associated pricing.
(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)
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