- Minister receives Rs. 45 m worth screening equipment for BIA
- Strict guidelines for tourists, visa procedures online to require additional details
- Mattala to be used if extra facilities needed
- Sri Lanka Tourism, Airport and Aviation Services and Civil Aviation Authority say ready to welcome tourists from 1 August
By Charumini de Silva
Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga yesterday reiterated that the Government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has given priority to the quicker revival of COVID-19-hit tourism sector given its critical contribution to socioeconomic development.
“Both the President and Prime Minister have given priority for tourism sector revival and have extended their fullest support,” Minister Ranatunga said in the first media briefing post-COVID-19.
He added that the Cabinet last week approved a range of new measures to help COVID-19-impacted entrepreneurs and companies engaged in the tourism sector as well as to further enhance the industry’s potential thereby increase foreign exchange earnings and employment.
The proposals were formulated after a thorough consultation with all stakeholders in the tourism industry, he said.
“All institutions under the Ministry and their employees have been playing a key role during COVID-19 period when it came to repatriation of Sri Lankans stranded overseas as well as ensuring health safety measures at the airports,” he added.
He told journalists that Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to announce a date of the reopening of the airport for international travellers. This was after health authorities gave clearance and the reopening will ensure strictest health safety and security standards. “This is important since international travellers arriving in Sri Lanka will not endanger the public health and safety,” he emphasised.
After Sri Lanka’s move, several other countries have announced reopening of their borders with some doing it as early as 15 July.
“As of now we are sticking to the 1 August timeline. This is because there are over 30,000 Sri Lankans stranded overseas wanting to return. We hope over 50% of them would have returned before 1 August via special repatriation flights,” the Minister said.
Ahead of the reopening of airports to welcome global tourists from 1 August, the Minister on Tuesday received Rs. 45 million worth of international health safety and screening equipment donated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) as well as by grants offered by the Japanese and Australian Governments at the BIA.
They include sophisticated skin temperature detection camera equipment, modern communication systems, infrared thermometers, special masks, PPC covers and gloves.
The Minister emphasised that from 1 August the procedure to enter the country will be common to both foreigners and Sri Lankans and will be subject to PCR tests on arrival among other procedures.
Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando said that all tourists wishing to travel to Sri Lanka will be required to apply for a visa online with the application form having additional questions such as duration of the stay, tour itinerary, proof of booking of accommodation and in-country transport method etc.
From 1 August all tourists will be required to stay in COVID-19 health safety compliant accommodation, be it a five-star hotel, resort or home-stays and their tours arranged by certified travel agents. The compliance certification is open to all accommodation providers and travel agents registered with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), the regulatory and standards setting body of the industry.
All tourists will be required to do a PCR test 72 hours prior to departure from their country and produce the result and undertake a fresh PCR test on arrival in Sri Lanka.
The tourists will have to undergo the second PCR test which will be conducted within 5-7 days of arrival and the third test within 10-12 days of arrival. Fernando said that additional information sought at the time of applying for a visa online will enable to track or contact all tourists via registered and compliant accommodation providers and travel agents.
She also said that strict COVID-19 health safety guidelines developed with Ministry of Health experts were shared with all industry stakeholders first on 4 May and the approved guidelines were shared with the industry to ensure all SLTDA registered accommodation providers comply. “We will continuously revise the guidelines as and when necessary depending on the COVID-19 status in the country,” she added.
Airport and Aviation Services Chairman Major. Gen. (Retd) G.A. Chandrasiri said all incoming aircraft are subject to disinfection measures as well as the airport and all arriving passengers. The responsibility of overseeing the first PCR test falls on Airport and Aviation Services Ltd.
“We have strengthened safety measures further as we are readying to reopen airports for international tourists,” he said adding that operations at the Mattala Airport too will resume given capacity constraints at Katunayake in the event arrivals increase.
He said that measures implemented are under the guidance of the President, Prime Minister and Minister whilst the armed forces have been helping the airports during the COVID-19 period.
Civil Aviation Chairman Upul Dharmadasa told the media that globally around 115 airports remain closed whilst only 57 have opened on a limited scale.
“We closed airports for tourists but continued to facilitate the return of Sri Lankans as well as repatriation of stranded nationals of foreign countries in Sri Lanka as well as for cargo flights,” he said, adding that so far around 10,000 Sri Lankans have returned.
He said all airports in Sri Lanka operate under strict guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).