Sri Lanka welcomes back tourists with tough coronavirus restrictions

Colombo, Jan 21 (efe-epa).- Sri Lanka reopened its borders on Thursday for tourists after almost 10 months of closure due to the pandemic, but travelers will have to follow tough Covid-19 safety protocols.

The government reopened the Bandaranaike International Airport and the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport for commercial flights to allow foreign travelers.

The closure of borders had paralyzed the lucrative tourism industry of the idyllic Indian Ocean island nation.

After they arrive in the country, tourists will have to remain in a “bio-bubble” in “safe and protected” hotels that will not be open for locals during the first 14 days of their stay.

During this period, called “level one”, travelers can only visit some designated sites.

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga told EFE that he was confident that the opening of the borders would help revive the economy.

“I cannot say that the operations will be 100 percent perfect, but we have made all arrangements for a safe and secure system. Now it is up to the stakeholders to follow these protocols,” the minister said.

He warned that tourism businesses risk losing their licenses if they violated the new guidelines.

He said around three million people in the country earned their livelihood directly or indirectly from tourism.

It was their national responsibility to take into consideration all “needs of our citizens that depend on this industry,” he said.

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority chief Kimarli Fernando told reporters in Colombo that the authorities finalized the protocols after consulting the health ministry and other stakeholders.

“The protocols were adopted after a thorough analysis of the situation and following multiple discussions with all stakeholders to begin a new normal,” Fernando said.

The reopening of the sector followed a nearly a month-long pilot project that brought down tourists from Ukraine in charter flights.

The tourism industry is a major foreign exchange earner for the island nation.

According to official statistics, the country earned $4.38 billion from tourism in 2018.

The figure plummeted to $3.61 billion in 2019 when a series of terrorist attacks on Easter Sunday killed more than 250 people.

Sri Lanka has registered more than 55,000 cases of coronavirus and 274 deaths, according to official data. EFE-EPA


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