Sri Lanka’s borders will be closed for all arrivals for ten days beginning May 21, the Civil Aviation Authority said on Wednesday, while officials reported a record single-day high of 3,051 COVID 19 cases.
Home to about 21 million people, Sri Lanka is witnessing a raging third wave of the pandemic, with health authorities reporting over 2,000 cases a day over the last week, prompting the government to impose travel restrictions, including lockdowns.
The country’s death toll – which was among the lowest in the region during the first wave – has rapidly risen in the last few weeks, reaching 1,015 on Tuesday. More than 1,50,000 cases have been reported since the pandemic struck last year, of which nearly 30,000 are currently active, according to data published by the Health Promotion Bureau.
The decision to bar entry to international travellers comes as a blow to the government’s efforts to revive the tourism industry from January this year, following a relative drop in case numbers. The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority said over 4,000 tourists visited Sri Lanka in April 2021, with Indians topping the list of arrivals. However, early May, the government barred Indian tourists, citing the persisting surge in cases in India.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has been carrying out its vaccination drive in phases, beginning in January, with the India-donated 5,00,000 doses of Covishield vaccines. Sri Lanka placed an order for more vaccines with the Serum Institute, but its arrival has been delayed amid the significant rise in cases within India since.
The Russian Sputnik vaccine as well as China’s Sinopharm vaccines are currently being administered by Sri Lankan health authorities and the military, who are tasked with managing the pandemic. China on Wednesday said it will donate a further 5,00,000 of Sinopharm vaccines to help Sri Lanka “build the Great Wall of vaccines”.