New overseas passenger guidelines come under fire

  • Health professionals, Govt. lab techs slam decision

BY Dinitha Rathnayake

The entry of fully-vaccinated overseas Sri Lankans and foreign passengers without on-arrival polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is an arbitrary decision without any scientific basis, according to the Experts Association of Health Professionals and the College of Medical Laboratory Science.

Association Convener and College President Ravi Kumudesh claimed that it is doubtful as to whether this decision by the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena was taken by him or by anyone with a knife to his neck.

“However, we urge the authorities to disclose to the country the technical advisory team that made this decision, which has been taken causing a risk to the entire country. No Covid-19 vaccine has yet been developed to prevent infection or transmission. There is a great deal of absurdity in this decision, which treats those who have been vaccinated as those without Covid-19,” he stated.

He added: “It is a mystery as to how the so-called guiding experts in our country have gained confidence that not even the companies that manufactured the vaccines have. No country in the world, including vaccine-producing countries, have such faith in the vaccines, and as a country that has had to impose long-term travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the pandemic, such a decision could put the country in grave danger.”

According to him, the sensitivity of a PCR test is 30%, yet the duration of a flight is two to three days, a period of time during which the state of the infection can change very easily.

“It is also a public secret that PCR reports are being forged in India and Pakistan, as well as in Sri Lanka. In such a situation, it is a shame that the public is using the guidelines of the health authorities to endanger the people of the country with 100% confidence in a PCR test conducted in another country,” he stressed.

Fully-vaccinated tourists and Sri Lankans having a negative PCR test result at the point of embarkation will no longer need to get a PCR test at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake, the Health Ministry said, announcing new guidelines for overseas Lankans and foreign passengers, effective from midnight on 28 September. Accordingly, it has been decided to allow fully vaccinated overseas Lankans and foreign passengers arriving in Sri Lanka from today (1) to leave for their destinations without having to undergo another PCR test on arrival at the local airport, if they tested negative for a PCR test at the point of embarkation.

Foreign visitors who have not been fully vaccinated will be given the opportunity to visit their hotel in a biological travel bubble and a PCR test will be done there, DGHS Dr. Gunawardena said.

But for unvaccinated Sri Lankans, if the results of a PCR test done at the airport or the hotel where they are staying is negative, they have the opportunity to go home, and will have to undergo self quarantine and subjected to a PCR test at their home on the 12th day after arrival. If said test is negative, they are allowed to enter society.

DGHS Dr. Gunawardena also pointed out that those who do not have home quarantine facilities can be quarantined for 14 days at Government-run quarantine centres, or at a hotel of their choice, and be reintegrated into society.

A circular in this regard is to be issued to come into force from today.

At present, passengers arriving in the country have to take a PCR test 72 hours before embarkation. They will only be able to fly if the test results are negative for Covid-19.

Currently, fully vaccinated (both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine) passengers arriving in Sri Lanka two weeks after complete vaccination are subjected to a PCR test on arrival in Sri Lanka. They will be allowed to enter the society only if they test negative for Covid-19.