Request by SLTDA: Health Ministry awaits expert opinion

  • SriLankan Airlines FAU criticises SLTDA’s request

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

The Ministry of Health is holding discussions with technical experts on Covid-19 management to determine the possibility of accommodating requests made by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) to remove certain Covid-19 preventative measures in place for foreign visitors coming into the country.

Deputy Director General of Public Health Services (DDGPHS) Dr. Hemantha Herath told The Sunday Morning that Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena would take the final decision on whether the request would be approved or denied based on the experts’ recommendations.

In a letter addressed to the DGHS, SLDTA Chairperson Kimarli Fernando had made several requests to relax certain Covid-19 preventative measures in a bid to revive the tourism sector.

She wrote the letter from Russia, where Fernando, Minister of Tourism Prasanna Ranatunga, and State Minister of Regional Co-operation Tharaka Balasuriya were attending a tourism promotion campaign. This request was made despite only 25% of the total population of Russia being vaccinated.

The requests included the removal of the mandatory requirement for fully vaccinated crew to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), PCR tests 72 hours before boarding the flight for fully vaccinated passengers, and PCR tests for children below the age of 12 in line with European Union (EU) regulations, as well as to allow on-arrival rapid antigen tests for fully vaccinated passengers on the tourist route, which would be conducted at the airport.

However, the SLTDA’s request had been criticised by the Flight Attendants’ Union (FAU), the sole representative body of the cabin crew of SriLankan Airlines, claiming that while they wholeheartedly support responsible tourism, some of the requests would translate into them having to let their guard down, thereby putting them at risk.

In a letter written to the SLTDA Chairperson, FAU President Sidath Dedigama had stated that, regardless of whether a tourist is vaccinated or not, there is a possibility of them having contracted the virus. As such, the crew could get infected and, in turn, infect others.

“To act with utmost responsibility is a primary duty of ours whilst navigating through a global pandemic. First, (we need to) protect our citizens. To the tourist, please portray Sri Lanka as a safe destination, a country that has taken responsible and due precautions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of tourists who chose to travel to our resplendent isle, especially at a time a highly infectious variant of the virus is prevalent in our country,” the letter stated.

The union had told the SLTDA that Sri Lanka should promote responsible tourism and not be reckless in misguided attempts to woo tourists.

“By way of an extensive health and safety assessment carried out and remedial actions taken, in keeping to World Health Organisation (WHO), International Air Transport Association (IATA), and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards, we were able to declare that we are one of the safest airlines in the world for passengers, (who are) assured that they are protected from infection during flight,” the union stated in the letter.