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Comment: Sonu Shivdasani says its time to live with Covid

The Soneva Resorts founder on how to control the spread of Covid and move past the pandemic

As we approach the second anniversary of Covid, our quality of life is still severely affected by this virus. Lockdowns and restrictions are not the solution. There is a way forward. Let me share with you our experience of Covid and explain.

My wife Eva and I opened Soneva Fushi, which has been our base during the pandemic, in 1995. We have dedicated our career to luxury hospitality and wellness. At present, our business interests are focused entirely on the Soneva brand, with hotels in the Maldives – we opened Soneva Fushi’s sister, Soneva Jani, in 2016 – and Soneva Kiri in Thailand.

There was never a question of closing our resorts and sending our hosts away

We understand that our hosts are our biggest asset in continuing our work at Soneva Resorts. At Soneva Fushi, as an example, even while the Maldives borders were closed, we continued to operate with 70 guests, who spent the lockdown with us.

It was a surreal time when the rest of the world was in lockdown and masks were obligatory; because there were no arrivals on the island, we were without masks and life was normal.  

Eva and I wanted to preserve this wonderful experience even when the borders reopened, and we started to receive new guests. So, we invested in a state-of-the-art Covid testing laboratory and decided to test all our guests and hosts on arrival.

Our hosts were asked to isolate for a week until a second test, whereas our guests had total access to the island a few hours after a negative test.

At Soneva, we were not just ‘no news, no shoes’, but also, ‘no masks’. We created a nirvana for our guests

However, over the past 18 months, since the Maldives borders reopened in the summer of 2020, we have experienced 500 positive Covid cases. We have managed two community spreads, one at each of our Maldivian resorts. In each case, over 100 hosts were positive. This number also includes construction workers who were temporarily on our resorts working on upgrade projects. Many of these cases took place last year and early this year before the vaccine, approximately half of these cases were unvaccinated people.  

We have been blessed with no fatalities. We only had one hospitalisation – and only for a couple of hours to check an individual’s breathing. In most other cases, the individuals have moved from positive to negative in a matter of  four or five days.   

Our experience in dealing with community spread has taught us that without extensive daily testing, it’s impossible to control the spread of the virus

Our hosts had either the Sinopharm or Covishield (the Indian version of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine). We experienced community spread at our resort even with a vaccination rate at 96%. The vaccine certainly reduces severe illness, but it does not stop the spread of Covid. It would be like trying to control a forest fire without the use of water. Daily testing when there is community spread is the only solution.

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While even more contagious, the new variant may signal the end of the pandemic. Dr Devasena Radha Krishnan, a Professor in Microbiology from Madras Medical College explained: “Omicron is a combination of alpha, beta, gamma delta variants of Corona, mutated. Omicron is a blessing-in-disguise variant that causes mild infections, like the common cold, with rapid spread, and is an indication for the end of the pandemic. A welcome change that could replace our dangerous delta variant. A pandemic ends after a series of mutations cause herd immunity and weakens the virus’ severity. We have reached that change.” 

Variants are becoming less effective and for most of the population, the risk of severe illness or fatality is low. There’s also strong evidence of real cures to reduce the severity and the impact of Covid.

Given the cost and infrastructure required to vaccinate and give boosters to large populations, and the significant human cost, both physical and psychological, caused by lockdowns and other restrictions, I believe now must be the time to reduce restrictions, stop lockdowns and live with Covid.   

For more information about Soneva resorts, visit www.soneva.com 

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