Coronavirus Travel Restrictions Strand Couple on Honeymoon in Paradise

Sophie Dodd

Olivia and Raul De Freitas set out for a six-day honeymoon in the Maldives on Sunday, March 22. Over two weeks later, they’re still stranded in paradise.

When they were getting ready to depart, the newlywed South African citizens were repeatedly reassured that they should proceed with their trip despite their growing concerns over travel restrictions related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Their travel agent encouraged them to enjoy their stay, adding that no matter any potential change in policy, they would be able to reenter South Africa, according to an account published by the New York Times.

The Maldives, a chain of over a thousand jewel-like islands in the Indian Ocean, is a hotspot for honeymooners and celebrities, beloved for its pristine white-sand beaches and luxury resorts.

The picturesque over-water villas promise ultimate privacy — almost like having the entire island to yourself, which is exactly the situation the De Freitas have found themselves in.

Courtesy of Olivia and Raul De Freitas

“Everyone says they want to be stuck on a tropical island, until you’re actually stuck,” Ms. De Freitas, a 27-year-old teacher, told the Times. “It only sounds good because you know you can leave.”

By Wednesday, March 25, just days after their arrival, the couple had been notified that South Africa’s airports would shut down as of midnight Thursday. The complicated nature of getting home — starting with an hour-and-a-half speedboat ride to the main island, followed by a five-hour flight to Doha, Qatar, a three-hour layover, and finally a nine-hour journey to Johannesburg — meant that there was no chance they would make it in time, even if they managed to book a flight and leave immediately.

Courtesy of Olivia and Raul De Freitas

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According to the Times, the pair proceeded to reach out to the South African Consulate in the Maldives, as well as the closest South African Embassy, in nearby Sri Lanka, for assistance. They were notified by a representative over WhatsApp that they were among 40 South Africans stranded throughout the Maldives, and that their best bet for getting home any time soon, would for the group to hire a chartered jet, paid for out of pocket. The cost? $104,000.

As many either refused to or could not pay their share, the option was eventually tabled.

Paradise in the midst of a pandemic looks a little different, the couple have learned.

Emptied of crowds and fellow vacationers, the De Freitas have been the only guests at the five-star Cinnamon Velifushi Maldives resort for over a week, where they have the full attention of the full staff, who remain employed because of the couple’s continued presence. Due to current government health regulations, all local resort workers must undergo a two-week quarantine following their last guests’ departure, the Times reports. They will be paid for that period of time, according to the hotel management.

Courtesy of Olivia and Raul De Freitas

For now, the staff are focusing their energies on their sole guests, checking in frequently, orchestrating romantic beachside dinners and performing to the pair in the resort’s dining hall in the evenings. Mr. De Freitas often joins in on their afternoon soccer games.

“We’ve started playing a lot of table tennis and snooker,” Ms. De Freitas said. The pair have taken to a lazy and languorous routine of sleeping in, snorkeling and swimming in the pool.

Ms. De Freitas is well aware that this may seem like a paradise to many, and it definitely has its upsides. “It’s incredible that we get this extra time,” she said. But the financial burden continues to mount for the young couple.

Even before the unintended extension, the honeymoon “was an extravagance” for the 27-year-old teacher and 28-year-old butcher. While the couple has been given a generous discount in light of the circumstances, their continued stay at the resort — usually priced beginning at $750 per night — is eating away at the money they had saved for a down payment on their first home together.

After another week of delayed communications, during which time the proposed charter flight home was deemed impossible and a flight originating from their home country was never offered, the couple were told that flight permissions and plans were set to be taken care of by Monday, April 6.

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Courtesy of Olivia and Raul De Freitas

Instead, the couple were contacted via WhatsApp by the embassy on Sunday, April 5, and given an hour’s notice to gather their belongs, say goodbye to the staff that they had befriended, and board a speedboat to a different five-star resort, where they joined the remaining two-dozen South Africans stranded in the Maldives that are being grouped together. The local government has pledged to take care of a large portion of the cost of their stay.

While South Africa’s lockdown is set to last until April 16, the timeline is subject to change, as new information about the coronavirus has already prompted several countries to extend their travel bans.

As of now, the couple has still not received any updates on their return flight home.