ECONOMYNEXT- A senior official in the Presidential Secretariat says the date to reopen the Katunayake international airport for incoming traffic is not yet confirmed as discussions are still on-going.
Admiral Jayanath Colombage (Rtd.) told the Derana TV channel today June 26 that the government had tentatively fixed August 1 as the date for re-opening but it could still change.
Colombage who is the Additional Secretary to the President for Foreign Relations said that only incoming tourists will be allowed to disembark and they would be permitted to travel to pre-arranged destinations.
“They could probably go to Kandy to visit the Dalada Maligawa or to Sigiriya,” he told the channel.
“The whole country would not be opened at once for tourist only certain places will be opened with guidelines prepared by the tourism board,” he said.
He went on to say that all Sri Lankans overseas who wish to return will be repatriated before the airport is opened for tourism.
No priority for VIPs
Colombage also said the delay in repatriating Sri Lankans from Kuwait is due to the lack of response from the host country to Sri Lanka’s request that all passengers be subjected to a PCR test before boarding their flights.
The government, he said, made this request because of the high number of returnees testing positive for the virus.
He said many countries in the Middle East made responded to the request from the government but the Kuwaiti government had not made any response till now.
Colombage dismissed charges that the government was prioritizing the families of VIPs to be repatriated.
“The President has not told me to give priority to any such person till now,” and said that it was President Rajapaksa who instructed them not make lists of returnees.
He said since we don’t know about the whereabouts of the Sri Lankans living abroad and the situation of those countries, the Ministry of Foreign Relations had handed over the duty of making lists of returnees to the respective embassies.
Colombage said that up to date 10,694 returnees have been repatriated from 42 countries since the travel ban from 19 March.
He added that plans have been made to bring at least two daily flights with 275 plus and 50 plus returnees which will amount at least to 325-350 daily returnees.
He said they had to decide on those numbers as it is not easy for the airport staff, security personnel and health officials to test and handle a larger number daily while wearing Personal Protection Equipment.
Colombage said that they are expecting to send flights to Oman, Qatar, South Africa, South America, Japan, Malaysia, Belarus and Bahrain within the next one and half weeks.
More than seven hundred returnees are COVID positive
Meanwhile, speaking to EconomyNext Army Spokesman Brigadier Chandana Wickramasinghe said that a total of 717 COVID-19 patients have been reported among the returnees while about 4,500 are being quarantined at 45 centres.
The Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau announced earlier this week that there are 2,010 reported cases of COVID-19 and 21 deaths among the Sri Lankans migrant workers in the Middle East.
According to the Health Promotion Bureau, Sri Lanka reported the last COVID-19 patient from the community on 30 April. (Colombo/June26/2020)
Edited by Arjuna Ranawana