“The Great Escape”: Sri Lanka and the Maldives Bear the Brunt of COVID Vacations

India’s elite continued to vacation in the island nations amid a raging pandemic.

Mirissa Beach Sri Lanka
Mirissa Beach, Sri Lanka (Nawartha Nirmal)

Poulomi Das


May 11, 2021


8 min

There is hardly any Bollywood actor who hasn’t vacationed in the Maldives in the last four months. From Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Ananya Pandey, and Janhvi Kapoor to Tiger Shroff, Tara Sutaria, Sara Ali Khan, and Kiara Advani, the Maldivian sun has kissed just about every millennial Bollywood actor’s Instagram feed. Beyond the Bollywood elite, Indian tourists accounted for 23% of the total tourists in the Maldives from January to March this year, the most from any country. Meanwhile, the Maldives has over 28,000 COVID cases in a country of 540,544. A similar situation is unfolding in Sri Lanka, another COVID vacation destination: the country of 21 million is witnessing a surge in infections, with over 128,000 total cases. 

“Maldives is the new Mumbai,” read numerous news headlines as Indian celebrities flocked to the islands. The recent COVID surge in India is affecting neighboring countries as well, and India might be contributing. On April 28, the Maldives, the Indian Ocean archipelago of more than a thousand islands, recorded 328 new cases, the highest single-day surge since March 2020. So far, only 21% of the Maldives population is fully vaccinated. Sri Lanka, where vaccination rollout is slower than India, is also facing a shortage of 600,000 doses. 

Columnist and author Shobhaa De, dubbed celebrities flaunting their holiday pictures as “the height of vulgarity,” while others, including actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, rued about celebrities shirking the responsibility of being public figures. That celebrities faced backlash for urging Indians to stay home during a pandemic while jetting off for vacations feels par for the course. As this second wave continues to prove, Indian celebrities are anything but responsible. The problem isn’t that India’s rich and famous are vacationing. Instead, it’s that they’re doing so at a time when taking a vacation has irreversible consequences, including potentially carrying the virus to island nations that are reliant on tourism and straining their healthcare resources. 

It’s largely the Indian elite who can afford to travel — though the cost of a roundtrip flight from Mumbai to Colombo or Malé can be as low as $215, resorts and quarantine measures can be prohibitively expensive — especially when it remains out of reach for the majority of Indians. But traveling to another country from a country that is witnessing a surge in COVID cases also means risking the lives of more people.

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