COLOMBO: Sri Lanka reopened to foreign tourists on Thursday (Jan 21) after a nearly 10-month closure that cut deeply into the Indian Ocean island nation's lucrative travel industry.
Full operations also resumed on Thursday at the island's two international airports, accommodating the commercial flights.
Under new protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, tourists must be tested for the virus in their country 72 hours prior to their flight, when they arrive at their hotel in Sri Lanka and again seven days later.
They must stay in a “travel bubble” designated in 14 tourism zones without mixing with the local population. About 180 hotels have been earmarked for tourist accommodations.
The resumption of tourism follows a pilot project that began Dec 26 in which 1,500 tourists from Ukraine visited Sri Lanka in such a travel bubble.
The government closed the country to tourists last March when an outbreak of the virus surfaced. The international airports were closed except for limited flights enabling Sri Lankans to return home.
Tourism is a vital economic sector for Sri Lanka, accounting for about 5 per cent of its gross domestic product and employing 250,000 people directly and up to 3 million indirectly. Hotels, other businesses and their employees faced crippling income losses.
Sri Lanka had fewer than 4,000 cases of coronavirus infection until October when clusters centered on a garment factory and fish market spread in the capital, Colombo, and its suburbs. As of Thursday, it has confirmed more than 55,000 cases with 274 fatalities.