- Says imperative that suggestions and recommendations from health sector be sought and implemented
- Recommends tourism restart adopts staggered approach
The Sri Lanka College of Microbiologists (SLCM) has given its recommendations for reopening the country to tourists during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and insisted it is imperative that suggestions and recommendations from the health sector are sought and
“It is important to ensure that any measures to revive tourism in Sri Lanka also pay attention to measures that aim to prevent transmission of COVID-19. At present, Sri Lanka’s pandemic control is more effective than that of many other countries. Therefore, in opening the country to tourists, it is imperative that suggestions and recommendations from the health sector are sought and implemented,” the SLCM said.
The College said that while inviting tourists to visit the country, it should always be kept in mind
that infected individuals may arrive as tourists, either in the incubation period or early stages of the disease, or that they may remain symptom-free despite being infected.
The SLCM noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had brought the world to a standstill, and tourism had been badly affected in spite it being a main contributor to the economies of countries like Sri Lanka and globally, with thinking shifting towards co-existence with COVID-19 until an effective vaccine or another therapeutic modality is in place.
It noted that while there was an ongoing discussion on reopening the country for tourism with suitable arrangements to prevent and restrict the spread of COVID-19, the country and the world was stepping into an era where global travel and tourism must occur under new and different conditions.
As part of the general recommendations, the SLCM said tourism should commence in a staggered manner, gradually absorbing the numbers which can be handled by the country, while maintaining stringent COVID-19 control measures.
Prior to opening the country for tourism, airport ground staff and cabin crew should be well trained in COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures while all necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be available for airport staff, and training should be given to the staff regarding proper use of PPE.
The College also suggested that tour itineraries of all tourists should be recorded at a central place so that tracing of contacts could be done easily and said this could be done using an app installed into tourists’ smartphones, while on-arrival health declaration should be comprehensive and mandatory.
The SLCM said that relaxation of arrival embargo needed to be decided based on the current disease epidemiology in different countries. For example, China, New Zealand, and Australia currently have few cases, and arrivals from those countries may pose a lower risk than tourists from countries with a high case load, while in the initial phase only tourists below the age of 65 should be encouraged since they are at lower risk of developing severe disease.
The College also said that tourists should be made aware of the health regulations of Sri Lanka and regulations related to quarantine activities and should possess travel insurance sufficient to cover any healthcare expenses that they may have to incur due to illness.
It was strongly recommended that frequent review meetings should be held between tourist industry stakeholders and officials of the Ministry of Health, to streamline the best practices and to make sure that resumption of tourism carries no hazards of COVID-19 to the country at large.
The College also gave recommendations on measures to be followed for tourists on arrival, for tour arrangements, hospitality industry and places of tourist interest
Sri Lanka attracted 1.9 million of tourists in 2019. The tourism industry is the third largest foreign exchange earner in the country, with a total earning of $ 4.4 billion in 2018, and $ 3.7 billion in 2019 (SLTDA, 2020).
According to SLTDA statistics in 2018, 169,003 and 219,484 people were recorded as direct and indirect employees respectively by the tourism industry. As of now, most of these workers are temporarily unemployed due to the closure of hotels and restaurants, airlines, travel agencies, tourist shops, etc. This has had a significant impact on the families who were totally dependent on tourism.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that international tourist arrivals will drop by 50-78% in 2020.