Temporary tourist travel ban mooted
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Amidst growing concerns due to soaring COVID-19 numbers in India and reports of Indians entering Sri Lanka illegally with the help of fishermen in the North, several parties including health officials expressed concerns that the Government or the tourism authorities are not considering a temporary travel ban on Indian arrivals.
This is in the wake of reports that at least 38 Indian tourists who had come to Sri Lanka under current bio bubble since 1 April having tested positive. Ceylon Today reliably learns that even tourism bigwigs were concerned about the surging numbers.
Neither the Director General of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) nor the Ministry of Tourism confirmed whether there is a travel ban on India. According to SLTDA officials, the Government should announce the travel ban.
Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the region that is open to tourism under the bubble programme.
It is in this backdrop that SLTDA announced that all national parks, Mirissa Whale Watching, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Pinnawala Open Zoo and Ridiyagama Safari Park will be closed for both locals and international tourists with effect from yesterday (5).
However, under the bio-bubble programme, all foreign travellers can visit only Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sri Dalada Maligawa and the Peradeniya Botanical Garden.
The SLTDA informed all the tourist agents and level 1 hotels that catering to bio-bubble travellers who are currently visiting Sri Lanka to comply with the restrictions imposed.
As these tourists arrived, they were subjected to a PCR test within 24 hours and if found negative they were allowed to move about however, if they were positive they were asked to be confined to the room for next 14 days and leave the country. Some had to spend and stay until the quarantine period was over, to catch the next flight to India.
On the Indian travel bubble programme, the Indian travel agents signed an MoU with Sri Lanka on 1 April, to start Indian tourism under a travel bubble to Sri Lanka. Within a few days, the scheduled travel plans had crippled due to the current COVID-19 crisis that has hit India.
However, like other countries that have imposed travel restrictions on India, Sri Lanka has not yet imposed such a restriction, being unable to antagonize the Indian diplomatic circle.
There were two kinds of tourism that have been in operation lately: the tourism bubble programme and quarantine tourism. The quarantine tourism also was arranged by the travel agent came into play later and was supported by SLTDA as a new module.
According to travel agents both initiatives has been suspended but officially it has not been declared by the Ministry of Tourism. The information has been shared with several travel agents and stakeholders but not yet officially announced, may be due to diplomatic reasons, noted a member of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators.
Several newspapers quoted that new visas to Indians are not issued currently and those who are arriving are those who have already possess visas issued by the Department of Immigration and Emigration of Sri Lanka.
After virus spread escalated in various places in Sri Lanka, just around two days ago the quarantine tourism has come to a halt, Ceylon Today learns.
The tourism bubble was established simultaneously to the new coronavirus strain breakout in India.
Reliable sources also confirmed that a flight flew a few number of Indians to Sri Lanka yesterday (5).