By Aanya Wipulasena
Colombo, Jun 29 (efe-epa).- Sri Lanka has decided to delay reopening the country to foreign tourists by at least two weeks, but lifted its nationwide curfew on Monday as the country prepares to hold parliamentary elections in the coming weeks.
The island nation was initially planning to open its international airports to tourists on Aug.1, but has now decided to give priority to bringing back Sri Lankans stuck abroad.
“We want to restart tourism as soon as possible. But more than 46,000 Sri Lankans have registered with the government and are waiting to return. We want first ensure that they are back,” Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga told EFE.
The authorities had declared a nationwide lockdown on Mar.20 to check the spread of the novel coronavirus. Although it was lifted in Jun.28, a curfew remained in place between midnight and 4am.
The government took the decision to completely lift the curfew as there were no records of Covid-19 cases at the community level, and with an eye on the upcoming general elections on Aug. 5, an official from the police’s media wing told EFE Monday.
He added that all the cases that have been recorded at the moment are from two major clusters – the Sri Lankan Navy and those returning from abroad.
“Even though the curfew is completely lifted people will not be able to gather in large groups as they did before Covid-19. People will have to follow health guidelines as recommended by the Health Ministry,” said the official from the Police Media Division.
The authorities also announced that people who fail to wear masks would be ordered to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Senior Police DIG of the Western Province, Deshabandu Tennakoon, said this decision was taken because people were flouting health ministry recommendations that made wearing masks in public mandatory.
“Over 19,000 people were stopped by the police for not wearing a mask or wearing it in the wrong way on Friday (last week),” underlined Tennakoon.
As of late Sunday, Sri Lanka had recorded almost 2,000 total confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 11 deaths, according to the Health Promotion Bureau. Only around 360 of the cases were active.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s tourism sector is not expected to be hit hard by the government’s decision to delay the resumption of the industry that is its third largest foreign exchange earner.
“We will not have foreign tourists immediately after we reopen the airport. So, this delay will not affect us badly,” Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators member Roshi Stronach told EFE, stressing that they were looking at domestic tourists for now.
The government has laid down rules for foreign travelers entering the country after airports open in August.
Tourists will have to produce a negative PCR report taken within 72 hours prior to their arrival on the island, followed by a second one after landing, and a third if they stay for more than 10 days.
Moreover, visitors will have to undergo another PCR test if they develop symptoms of Covid-19 infections during their stay in the country. EFE-EPA