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Tourism pilot project: SLTDA admits protocol breached

  • DG says guidelines not followed

  • Meeting today with Tourism Minister

 

By Dinitha Rathnayake

 

The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) has admitted that there have been shortcomings in the ongoing tourism pilot project which brought tourists from Ukraine, and that it will hold a meeting with Minister of Tourism Prasanna Ranatunga today (4) to rectify the issues.

“The tourism industry has to be opened somehow and therefore, it was decided that it could be done through a pilot project. But the agreement was to follow proper health guidelines. We provided the guidelines to all the organisers and hotels.

“Unfortunately, we saw through social media that when it came to practical implementation, there were shortcomings. Within tomorrow (today), we will have a discussion with the Minister and all the organisers of the tour,” SLTDA Director General Dhammika Wijesinghe told The Morning yesterday (3).

Wijesinghe said that before arriving, the first group of Ukrainian tourists released a protocol where all security was guaranteed, and the plan was to have a bio-bubble, isolated from the outside world. She added that in the SLTDA protocol, five hotels with all the safety measures in place were suggested, but only four of them had been followed while one was neglected by the tour operators.

When asked as to who is to blame for the alleged violations of health protocols and quarantine regulations, Wijesinghe said that this was not the time to find blame.

“We accept that there were shortcomings. But what we should do now is not point fingers at anyone. We can’t keep the tourism industry closed forever. We must fix the wrongs and move forward.”

However, speaking to The Morning yesterday, Minister Ranatunga said the local response to the pilot project has been positive.

“We kicked-off this pilot programme last week and we have already had a good response from tourists and the people who work in the tourism industry, as most of the drivers and the tourist guides have also given their support to it.”

Meanwhile, a group of drivers who took the visiting Ukrainian tourists on a safari in Yala complained that they have not been informed beforehand about a 14-day mandatory quarantine which they have to undergo following the safari.

However, Wijesinghe noted that this safari was also conducted against the agreed protocol as the said drivers were not the ones who were supposed to be used for the safari.

Providing an update on the health situation of the Ukraine tourists, she added that six members of the first 180-member group initially tested positive for the virus. However, only five are being treated at the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (KDU) Hospital as the report of one patient returned negative after a second PCR.

Meanwhile, speaking to The Morning, Samagi Jana Balawegaya MP Dr. Harsha de Silva alleged that health protocols have been violated from the outset.

“From the start, rules were bent or adjusted to accommodate the Ukrainian tourist project which is being termed a ‘pilot’ project. The Ministry of Health reduced the mandatory quarantine period from 14 to seven and then agreed that the tourists could visit identified places if their first PCR tests returned a negative result in a biosecure bubble. Why can’t we bring people from countries which are least affected?”

Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) MP Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa too blasted the Government for bringing down tourists from Ukraine.

The Eastern European country with a population of 42 million people passed the one million mark for Covid-19-positive cases shortly before Christmas. Ukrainean Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal plans to impose tight nationwide lockdown from 8-24 January to stop the rapid spread of the virus.

Furthermore, while Sri Lanka has banned travel from the UK, following the detection of a new and potentially more dangerous variant of Covid-19 being detected in the country, Ukraine is yet to ban travel from the UK.

The pilot project is set to end on 19 January and the Government plans to bring in over 2,500 tourists under the project from Russia, Ukraine, and other countries in the region.