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Tuesday May 17th, 2022

Sri Lanka borders open in peak tourist season amid forex crisis, but caution advised

ECONOMYNEXT – With over 60 percent of the population vaccinated, going for a lockdown and closing down of airports and tourism industry is not planned for the Christmas season, but the public should exercise caution and go about their work, senior health officials said.

With income sources getting blocked for majority in the country, it is not practical to go for a lock down again, therefore there is no decision to go for a lockdown in the coming Christmas season, Secretary to the Ministry of Health, Sanjeewa Munasinghesaid.

“During these lockdowns, many people complained that they do not have a away to live,” Munasinghe said.

“If you heard these people’s complaints, you will never say to lockdown the country again.”

Countries usually lockdown as hospitals gets overwhelmed and deaths go up. However after multiple lockdowns people run out of savings and businesses also get into higher levels of debt.

Blocking flights and closing down the airports also will also not completely stop the variant from coming into the country, Munasinghe said.

After record money printing for ‘stimulus’ Sri Lanka is facing a foreign exchange crisis worse than in 2018 when money was also printed to keep rates down.

Amid a desperate economic situation the country should not block one of its main income sources that can be used to fight the pandemic, Munasinghe said.

For the period of the pandemic since 2020, the government has spent 113 billion rupees totally to bring in medicines, vaccines and develop the infrastructure of the health sector.

“We had to mainly invest in three things. Hospital facilities, medicines and tests kits and vaccines” Munasinghe said.

“Because the vaccine was the priority, the government has spent 66.39 billion rupees totally including the Pfizer booster doses”

“It is noot only tourists that can bring in the variant. Just by blocking them the variant won’t be stopped. And also by doing that we are blocking one of our income source. We need it to get vaccines, provide food and etc.”

Munasinghe said, if the tourism industry operates under a system and tourists are coming in to the country through a specific procedure, then it should be continued.

Sri Lanka imposed a travel ban on November 28 on six African countries where the newest ‘variant of concern’ Omicron emerged.

State Minister of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control Sudarshini Fernandopulle informed parliament on Tuesday (30) that health officials are tracing passengers who arrived from high risk countries in the last 14 days before it imposed a travel ban on November 28.

Commenting on the issue Head of department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura Neelika Malavige said, the European countries which identified Covid patients with the Omicron variant, has stated that the variant has been in the Europe since early November.

“There is no guarantee that strict border controls will stop the variant from coming in,” Malavige said.

“Australia and New Zealand had strict border controls since the beginning of the pandemic. But due to the high transmissibility of the delta variant, it got in to those countries. If this omicron has the same or enhanced ability like delta it will be difficult to control it only by strict border controls.”

Though the rate of transmissibility is different, the ways of spreading is identical, Malavige said, therefore at a situation of a world pandemic the general public should cooperate with the health sector to control the spreading by following the basic guidelines.

Sri Lanka at a better place to fight the virus with majority of the population being vaccinated and with booster dose is also continuing.

“We have a completely different situation than last year” Malavige said.

“During that time there was no vaccination and immunity is not strong to withstand the virus, but now we have started even giving the booster dose.

“So even if the Omicron comes, even though we do not have enough data about how it will affect the patients, the immunity of our people will be strong to face it.”

Sri Lanka has so far vaccinated 62.7 percent of the total population.

Deputy Director of Health Services, Hemantha Herath said, the public should follow health guidelines and avoid public gatherings and non essential travel activities in the coming weeks.

“If the things we will lose are greater than the things we gain, then it is not worth it,” he said. “This variant doesn’t come with an announcement. We do not have the ability to tell without conducting a gene sequencing who have the variant”

He said it may be already in the country, therefore following the health guidelines should be the priority of the general public.

ChandimaJeewadara, Director, Molecular and Cell Biology Unit of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura
(USJ) said, Ministry of Health sent a set of samples of the tourists that came to the country during the past weeks.

“MoH has given us samples of the tourists. We expect to give the results of those gene sequencing tests in the coming weekend.” Jeewandara said.

“Last gene sequencing we did show us that 100 percent of the cases we find had the delta variant.”

“No omicron patients have been identified so far in the country” (Colombo/ Dec 03/2021)

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