Fancy combining a vaccination with your next vacation? Head to the Maldives and you could receive the Covid jab in paradise. Olivia Palamountain reports
The Maldives is the latest destination to promote “Vaccine Vacations”, with a plan offer Covid jabs to tourists in a bid to entice visitors back to the islands. At the moment it has not been confirmed whether they will be free or paid-for.
Maldivian tourism minister Abdulla Mausoom said: “‘Visit, Vaccinate, Vacation’, will provide tourists with a convenient way to access shots, but the scheme will only go live once the native population has been vaccinated. The main idea of tourism being open is to provide a reasonably safe tourism with minimum inconvenience. So once the country gets vaccinated, then we will move on to ‘3V’ tourism.”
At present, roughly half of the 500,000-strong population has had their first dose, while 90 per cent of Maldives frontline workers have received theirs.
Despite opening its borders in July 15 last year, with international lockdowns still in place, the country has so far struggled to make up for lost revenue.
In a further blow, the Maldives has recently been moved to the “red list”, meaning that even when UK borders open, British visitors will find it very hard to visit (read all about Globetrender’s trip to the Maldives before the transition here).
While the thought of getting jabbed in paradise has a certain surreal allure, strip the concept back and it’s actually a pretty good idea – but not without criticism.
Tourism is the largest sector of Maldives’ economy, providing for more than 57 per cent of its annual GDP, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. So when Covid hit, it hit hard.
With the powers that be desperate to drive travellers back to the Maldives’ endless luxury resorts and hotels, this campaign could be just the ticket to give the much-loved destination the break it needs to get on the path to economic recovery.
The ethics surrounding the move are debatable. As reported by Forbes, the Maldives receives its Covid-19 vaccines through the World Health Organisation’s Covax program, which is where governments donate doses to countries who cannot provide their own – in this case, doses have also arrived from China and India.
It is unclear whether the country would continue to receive vaccines if they were intended for tourist use.
According to CN Traveler, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has publicly said in recent months that, due to a global vaccine shortage, it does not support programmes that would allocate crucial vaccine doses for leisure travel.
So far, richer nations able to secure their own doses are vaccinating their populations faster than smaller and poorer countries with elderly and front-line workers still not inoculated, and the head of the WHO last week warned of a “shocking imbalance” in global vaccinations.
“On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people has received a Covid-19 vaccine,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500.”
Vaccine tourism is springing up in countries around the world, catered to by tour operators and private clubs. This summer, Alaska will be offering free jabs to win visitors. But if you can get a jab in your own country for free, why try and get one elsewhere? (It might be appealing to Gen Z who are lower down the list in terms of priority.)
Even New York City is planning to roll-out mobile clinics to provide free Covid shots to tourists visiting local attractions such as the Empire State Building, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge Park, the High Line and Central Park.
Austrian company Impfreisen.at is offering a variety of all-inclusive vacation travel packages with “guaranteed access to the coronavirus vaccination” and Norwegian travel agency World Visitor is offering coronavirus vaccine getaways to Russia.
For €1,199 clients take two trips in one month, one for each dose of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. For €2,999, customers can enjoy a luxury 22-day stay in a Russian health resort, with a jab at the beginning and the end of the trip.
A third option includes a trip to a spa hotel in Turkey, with layovers at Moscow airport, which is soon to boast a vaccination centre in the terminal.
Meanwhile, elite members club Knightsbridge Circle was quick to offer luxury “vaccine package holidays” to Dubai (before it was moved to the red list), in one of the first examples of how rich and powerful “Vaccine VIPs” are buying their way to the front of the vaccine queue.