ECONOMYNEXT – Udayanga Weeratunga, a former envoy to Russia who is under fire for arranging tours allegedly flouting of health rules is in a bio bubble and safari drivers who were exposed are also in a bubble, Tourist Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said.
“Udayanga Weeratunga is in a (bio) bubble,” Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga told parliament.
“It is not correct to say that safari drivers are in quarantine they are in a bio bubble. They will get more work and will drive more groups. But they cannot go home because they are in a bubble.”
Minister Ranatunga said drivers were supposed to work with personal protective equipment but the rule had not been conveyed.
If they had worn PPE, they would not be exposed, he said. He said the drivers were isolated to make sure that they would not go home and expose other people.
“I do not say that what Udayanga Weeratunga had done is all right but this is a pilot project,” he said. “We will clear the shortcomings and go forward.”
He said the tourism industry had to be revived because many people were without jobs, struggling to pay leases, and the government while giving assistance could not support them for a long term.
“Some people who were in the industry are now selling pork on the road-side to eat with rotti,” Minister Ranatunga said.
He was responding to comments by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna legislator Vijitha Herath, who questioned where the ‘one country, one law’ was for Udyanga Weeratunga who was seen in photographs associating with foreign nationals without masks.
“Where is the one law, one country for Udayanga Weeratunga?” Herath asked.
Minister Ranatunga said it was not possible to implement a one country, one law for different people.
Tourists will not stay for two weeks in one place, he said.
“Foreign business people will come to the country in their own jet, do their work and go back in two days,” Minister Ranatunga said.
“They cannot be asked to quarantine.”
The Ukraine tourists ran into controversy after several with queries being raised whether they were housed in hotels certified for safety.
Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority had also written to Tourism Minister Ranatunga, raising questions, according to a letter now in the public domain.
Nationalists who were calling for forced cremations of Muslim Covid-19 victims were justifying the move based on a ‘one law, one country’ slogan.
Minister Ranatunga said three travel agencies called Exotic Holdings, Deluxe and Ceylon My Dreams had brought tourists from Ukraine. Any others could also do in the future, he said.
He said new health guidelines had been prepared.
Weeratunga in a video statement broadcast on Newswire.lk, an online news portal said the tourists were brought after approval from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa.
It was done to help the tourism industry, he said. Weeratunga said the travel agencies knew him and placed confidence in him and brought tourists to the country. (Colombo/Jan05/2020 – Update II)