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Tuesday January 25th, 2022
Health

Sri Lanka to largely stick with current travel guidelines for tourists for now

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will stick with travel guidelines currently in place for the time being, officials said, as at least two countries closed their borders for all inbound travellers in the face of the newly detected Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Sri Lanka on Saturday (27) announced that it will ban travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe after the detection of the variant in the region.

“We have halted travelers from concerned countries but all other applicable guidelines that are in place currently will be followed,” a Civil Aviation Authority spokesman told EconomyNext.

The variant was detected on November 24 and has been assessed by World Health Organisation (WHO) as being ‘very high’ risk.

A top official at Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said the current travel guidelines are unlikely to be changed.

“Outbound travellers may face difficulties with more countries banning flights. Sri Lanka has one of the easiest arrival processes which maybe a risk, but the health ministry is currently in discussion over this,” the official said.

Sri Lanka’s tourism has been limping back to recovery since August, with numbers of holiday makers to the country gradually rising due to the winter season traffic.

The number of direct flights to the country from top tourist source markets has risen in the past few months.

“We cannot determine the [presence of] the Omicron variant without doing a gene sequencing test. Everyone coming into the airport is not going to get a gene sequencing test as that will not be practical,” Deputy Director of Health Services Dr Hemantha Herath said.

“We have to make sure that arrivals take a PCR tests before arrival and quarantine anyone who comes without being fully vaccinated.”

A technical paper published by the WHO on Monday (29) “Enhancing Readiness for Omicron (B.1.1.529): Technical Brief and Priority Actions for Member States” said the mutation’s transmissibility and the spread of the variant at the global level is very high.

“Given mutations that may confer immune escape potential and possibly transmissibility advantage, the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high,” the WHO technical report said.

“Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have severe consequences, depending on a number of factors including where surges may take place. The overall global risk related to the new VOC Omicron is assessed as very high.”

Although many countries imposed travel ban on African countries, the variant has already been detected in Germany, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Britain, Canada, and other countries.

However, WHO has yet to determine the transmissibility of the variant and how well the vaccines protect against the variant.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic. Preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern (VOCs),” WHO said.

Meanwhile, the health official who detected the variant in South Africa has said that the symptoms are mild as of now. (Colombo/Nov29/2021)

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