Sri Lanka has announced that it will welcome holidaymakers from all countries from August 1, but only if they meet strict requirements and undergo rigorous testing for Covid-19.
The country’s tourism ministry has stated that all visitors must carry a certificate declaring themselves free of the virus, issued no earlier than 72 hours before boarding a flight to the island. Travellers will then be required to take a free coronavirus test upon arrival at the airport, the results of which should be available within four to six hours. A further test will be done four or five days later, with a mobile testing unit coming to guests’ hotels. Those staying longer than 10 days will be subjected to yet another test. If symptoms are detected at any point, a quarantine of between 14 and 21 days in a designated hotel will be required.
When announcing the new rules, the tourism ministry said: "While this may be inconvenient, it is essential to safeguard everybody and provide peace of mind."
The repeated testing is not the only measure that Sri Lanka is introducing for visitors. First, the usual visa fee of $40 (£31) has been raised to $100 (£78), perhaps to cover the cost of all those tests. Tourists will also be banned from using public transport, which will prove quite the sting for those keen to snap a picture on the famous, scenic train ride from Kandy to Ella. The journey, which winds though tea plantations, has become one of the island’s key tourist attractions in the past few years, clogging up Instagram feeds around the world.
Another caveat is that guests must stay in Government-approved accommodation. While few details have been revealed as to what measures hotels must take to make the grade, the licensed options will be listed on the official Sri Lanka tourism website in due course. Visitors will also be required to stay in the country for at least five days, which will likely not affect that many travellers from further afield, but may make visitors rethink previously popular twin-centre trips with the nearby Maldives.
All tourist sites, such as the ancient Sigiriya Fortress, Yala National Park and the temples in Kandy will be open from August 1, with strict hygiene and social distancing measures in place.
In public health terms, the country has been left relatively unscathed by the virus, with only 1,835 cases and 11 deaths recorded. After an early lockdown, restrictions began to be eased in April and since the end of May weddings with up to 100 guests have been allowed – although everyone, including the bride and groom, must wear masks.
Sri Lanka will be keen to restart tourism after visitor numbers dropped dramatically following last year’s Easter Sunday terrorist bombings, which killed 269, including 45 foreigners. After the attacks, the island attempted to entice visitors with cut price flights and hotel deals. Strong signs of recovery were emerging before the virus halted tourism back in March.