Sri Lanka keeps borders open to foreign tourists amid Covid-19 surge

While a resurgence in Covid-19 cases forced the Sri Lankan authorities on Sunday (April 25) to ban state and private functions in the country for two weeks, current rules on inbound travellers remain unchanged.

Inbound tourism to Sri Lanka has remained in the doldrums, as the emergence of new virus variants and Covid-19 resurgences foil international tourism recovery plans. Since reopening to foreign travellers on January 21, the country has seen 9,629 arrivals to date – a far cry from the 507,311 arrivals recorded during the January-April period in 2020.

Flow of foreign visitors to Sri Lanka remain at a trickle; St Anthony’s Church in Colombo, Sri Lanka pictured

On Friday, the country reported 969 new Covid-19 cases, the second highest daily number on record. The virus surge has been attributed to the large numbers flocking to markets, shopping malls and other trading centres ahead of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in mid-April, and the mass exodus of people returning to their hometowns for the holidays.

On Sunday, the government announced a two-week ban on all state and private events, meetings and parties to curb the virus spread. Public gatherings such as exhibitions, conferences, parties, indoor and outdoor events, carnivals, musical shows and processions have been banned.

The new developments also saw the the US, the UK, and Australia issue updated travel advisories on Sri Lanka. Arrival numbers from the UK and Australia, which were significant source markets pre-Covid, are still at a trickle since the country’s reopening.

The US travel advisory said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Level 2 Travel Health Notice for Sri Lanka due to Covid-19, indicating a moderate level of Covid-19 in the country. Meanwhile, the UK advisory stated that “lockdowns are being imposed in areas affected by Covid-19, and travel restrictions may also be imposed at short notice. Those not adhering to restrictions risk arrest”.

Australia has advised its citizens against travelling to Sri Lanka due to the health risks posed by the pandemic and significant disruptions to global travel.

Tourism minister Prasanna Ranatunga told reporters that despite the current Covid-19 situation, airport operations and border rules on tourist arrivals will be maintained as per recommendations of the health authorities.

“If a tourist who comes to Sri Lanka is found to be infected, he or she would be prevented from socialising. However, at present, there is a lull in tourist arrivals. Nevertheless, we continue to follow the advice of the health sector,” he was quoted as saying in one newspaper.

The authorities have closed the arrival and departure lounges at the main Bandaranaike International Airport to visitors from Sunday until further notice.

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