At the start of the year vaccine tourism was an ugly concept that saw the rich and well-connected exploiting their positions to get Covid-19 inoculations ahead of those who needed them more. But it now seems set to enter the mainstream, with a tourist hot spot in the Indian Ocean confirming plans to openly link jabs with jet-setting.

The Maldives is promising vaccinations linked to holiday packages in the months ahead as part of what tourism officials in the sun-kissed archipelago are calling 3V tourism: visit, vaccinate and vacation.

The country’s minister for tourism, Dr Abdulla Mausoom, says the plan is to offer visitors two doses of the vaccine. That means people will be incentivised not only to visit the country, which is hugely reliant on tourism revenue, but also to stay there, at considerable cost, for several weeks, as they wait for their second dose.

The Maldives was one of the first countries to fully reopen to tourists; its tourism authorities have set a goal of 1.5 million tourist arrivals this year. So far in 2021, close to 350,000 people have travelled there for leisure, with most coming from India – a country being ravaged by Covid-19.

Tourism frontline workers

According to Mausoom, almost 90 per cent of tourism frontline workers have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. “The main idea of tourism being open is to provide a reasonably safe tourism [experience] with minimum inconvenience. So once the country gets vaccinated, then we will move on to ‘3V’ tourism,” he told the Times of India.

While there is no date on when the 3V programme might start, the minister stresses that it will not be until after all Maldives residents have been inoculated. So far, 4.8 per cent of residents have been completely vaccinated.

The Maldives has signed up to the World Health Organisation’s Covax programme, which wants to ensure a supply of vaccine doses to nations unable to secure their own. But the WHO is against the allocation of vaccine doses for leisure travel; its director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned last week of a “shocking imbalance” in vaccinations around the world. “On average in high-income countries, almost one in four people has received a Covid-19 vaccine,” he said. “In low-income countries, it’s one in more than 500.”

While the Maldives is the first country to officially plan for a vacation vaccine programme, other countries have also been using the promise of a jab to lure people in their direction.

Wealthy people

According to multiple reports, wealthy people have been travelling to the UAE for access to vaccinations. Among them was the head of Canada’s largest pension fund, Mark Machin, who resigned in February after being vaccinated in Dubai despite his own government’s advice not to travel.

Vaccinations in Dubai were opened up in March to anyone aged 40 or over who had a Dubai residency visa; they are also available to all UAE natives aged over 16. But the only official way for people to access the vaccine in Dubai is by becoming a resident, and for months the country has been running a campaign to encourages foreigners to work remotely from Dubai for a year.

Anyone who earns more than €4,000 a month can apply for a 12-month visa to work from Dubai for a fee of less than €600 – and the visa entitles them to be vaccinated in line with the country’s rollout plan. Typically, the visas are also multiple entry, which means holders can come and go as they please.

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