My trouble in paradise shows that coronavirus can strike anywhere – it is a threat we have to face together

As Britons return home from abroad, getting used to the lockdown in the UK is important

Arjun Neil Alim
Friday 03 April 2020 17:13
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Dominic Raab urges Brits travelling abroad to return home 'as soon as possible'

Trouble in paradise began with a tap on the shoulder. “There’s a situation I have to update you on”, the commercial director of Gili Lankanfushi said with characteristic professionalism as I was strapping on my snorkel.

“The authorities have just stopped anyone travelling between islands to stop the spread of coronavirus. I’m afraid your departure tomorrow will not be possible.”

I had been in the Maldives for a whistlestop tour to review a few resorts for another publication. I had arrived just three days ago, and was at this resort less than 24 hours.

Yet I could already sense that Gili was one of the most sublime places I would ever stay – a private pool, gourmet food, sports and panoramic views. This was how the wealthy holidayed.

The commercial director reassured me, as I was setting off to search for sharks and sea turtles in the turquoise-blue lagoon, that I was welcome to stay an extra night if I needed to change my flight.

The Maldivian government, panicked by their, now 19, cases of Covid-19, had declared a public emergency and acted to contain potential "superspreaders" to one of the country’s 1200 islands. But I wasn’t too concerned; I could probably move my return flight, and enjoy another day.

The next evening, while having supper on the beach, I received a familiar text from the director. “There’s a situation in-house I need to update you on”.

It turns out one of the staff, who had just returned from holiday in Malaysia, had been taken ill. Everyone who might have been in contact with him was in isolation, including the director.

All of a sudden, things became rather more serious. As we had a suspected case of Covid-19, the country’s emergency procedures kicked into action and our island was locked down. No one was allowed to enter the island, or leave.

As the guests (who were already reduced to fewer than 30) were all gradually informed, the nervous energy was palpable and what looked like a police boat circled the island. A few staff fretted about returning to family in other parts of the country. An imminent flight was looking unlikely.

I spent the next day sitting around different parts of my villa, wondering if I was the luckiest person in the world, or in danger of being interned on a small island in the Indian Ocean 70,000km from home.

A game of tennis with the resident coach, a passionate Argentinian who told me I had tennis in my heart, chilled me out. That is, until I saw that the Maldives had now banned arrivals from the UK, alongside the rest of Europe. British Airways surely wouldn’t continue to fly much longer.

My friends back in Europe were less than sympathetic. “You’ve won the lottery”, one texted me. “Why does this kind of thing always happen to you?”, another messaged furiously.

My colleagues on the other hand had begun to worry about their young team member stuck halfway across the world. “Catch any flight you can, as soon as you can”, one encouraged me.

I explained to them that I could not leave the island until the staff member's test came back. If it was negative, I could pack up straight away. If it came back positive, I would probably have to be tested too. At worst, I would have to spend 14 days in quarantine – and I wasn’t certain it would be at Gili.

I continued in this surreal limbo for five days; eating; drinking; reading; practising yoga; swimming and following the bleak situation at home. I wandered around this ultra-luxury resort, now at 20 per cent capacity, chatting to the bored staff and learning how to surf. They seemed to relish the chance to actually work – handing me wine, cheese, ice cream – anything.

Tearful woman urges people to stay home after battle with coronavirus

And finally, I got word that the employee tested negative. The authorities kept the island under surveillance for another day, while they verified the test results. But the mood among the guests was now bullish, the majority of us Brits now believed we would soon be home.

A boat finally arrived to take us to the airport. Along with the other Brits from the resort, we left Gili Lankanfushi with admiration for their inspirational hospitality and with sadness to leave a place with which I had become more familiar than expected.

And we boarded our flight out of the Maldives, ready to join our fellow citizens and neighbours in our shuttered country, and to face this new threat all together.

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