SL Becomes a ‘Transit Quarantine Hub’
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) has introduced Sri Lanka as a 'transit quarantine hub to generate revenue, despite the tourism industry being grounded in the country, Ceylon Today reliably learns. The SLTDA on 25 April 2021, had introduced this transit quarantine hub, for foreign workers, which would allow them to station in the country for 14 days, paying exorbitantly for hotels and paying USD 12 insurance, to do two PCR tests before their departure to the foreign country, where they are employed.
As controversy surrounds over whether the Indian nationals had come to Sri Lanka for COVID-19 treatment, it is clear that these are either the foreign workers or Indian tourists coming under the SLTDA introduced Indian travel bubble at the beginning of April this year. Interestingly, these workers have arrived on tourist visas with the rest of the normal tourists arranged under bio bubble programme, by the travel agents.
Most of such foreign workers are heading for Saudi Arabia or Middle East countries, according to a reliable source. Several hotels have agreed to accept foreign workers and urged the SLTDA to reduce the rates for foreign workers' stay as some hotels have quoted Rs 8000 or more per day.
The SLTDA in its introduction to this new venture says that “some countries have accepted quarantine in Sri Lanka as an entry requirement to their country, as direct arrival from the origin country is not permitted.” The SLTDA further says “this is a reflection of Sri Lanka's health and safety regulations.” The programme was introduced at a time when many of the Asian countries, including India are battling to curb the fiercely spreading coronavirus. It is notable fact that by the end of January 2021 and early February the new virus variant in India began to cripple the country and spread fast in March and April.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL) said the airport is open for all and no travel restrictions have been enacted up to date. Interestingly, on Sunday (2) a flight from Delhi with 17 Indians had arrived at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA). According to Chairman Civil Aviation Authority Major General (rtd) G. A. Chandrasiri, all flights from India are arriving as scheduled. According to him over 1, 700 passengers are arriving dailyat the BIA. But Ceylon Today learns that several of the bookings from India had been cancelled in the last few days due to the lockdown in India. Currently, there are daily flights from Chennai, and three flights a week arriving from New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Bangalore.
But on 1 April SLTDA released a new travel guide, Level 1 for those who have taken their two vaccine doses so that on the following day after a PCR test and proved negative to be allowed to freely move in the country and to those that are not, they still can come and do the PCR (3 times) stay in quarantine for 14 days and move freely.
But the new category level 2 was designed to differentiate the foreign workers from the usual tourist's bubble organised by the same travel agent. The travel agent brings both categories together. The SLTDA's 'Safe and Secure Hotels in Sri Lanka' for foreign works for 14-day quarantine en route to other countries is applicable to all workers including Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi nationals.
The Level 2 special category foreign workers should also arrive as planned by the travel agency so that they would be also under a bio bubble, the SLTDA notice said. The SLTDA also informs that the travel agents and hotels taking such bookings are responsible to ensure the departure of such guests from the country at the end of the 14- day quarantine period.
A reliable source said that if these foreign workers fall sick in Sri Lanka, as they are insured for 12 USD as medical insurance that can be undertaken. According to the SLTDA notice, all health ministry guidelines as applicable to level 1 (normal tourists) tourists need to be strictly adhered to for such level 2 booking (foreign workers) with insurance PCR testing.
Also, it states that the hotel will be exclusively for the above category and not permitted to take other international or domestic bookings while they operated as Special Level 2 hotel. SLTDA says the guests will be confined to their rooms and will not be permitted to use common facilities at any stage. Meals should be delivered to the rooms. According to reliable sources, in the new SLTDA scheme the foreign workers, will not be allowed to go out of their rooms nor use the pub, public areas, or the swimming pool.
Also, they should provide the latest PCR test results and also two vaccine doses. Any hotels taking bookings will be considered safe and secure level 2 (for foreign workers). On further probing how many have arrived as foreign workers and tourists from India, there also seems lack of communication between the SLTDA, the CAASL, and the Immigration officials who have no information about this scheme. Ceylon Today learns that only Pakistani nationals are not allowed to come as transit foreign workers to Sri Lanka.
Last year, foreign seafarers were allowed to travel Sri Lanka to board ships and that also resulted in many falling sick and hospitalisation when the country ran out of beds. The Government said that they had generated income when the rest of the world was hit hard due to the pandemic.