Sri Lanka Eases Middle East Travel Ban

Just days after imposing a ban on travelers from six Middle Eastern countries, Sri Lanka has reversed its decision. The country will allow travelers to arrive with a negative COVID-19 test and undergo a 10-day hotel quarantine. It’s unclear when airlines will begin accepting passengers once again.

Sri Lanka Eases Middle East Travel Ban
Emirates announced that it would no longer carry passengers to Sri Lanka from the UAE and several other countries. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Revoked

In a confusing 24 hours for passengers, Sri Lanka has reversed course on a travel ban on passengers from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Travelers will now be allowed to enter with a negative COVID-19 test taken within 96 hours of arrival. However, arrivals must undergo a 10-day hotel quarantine if they are not arriving under the tourism “biobubble.”

According to Doha News, Sri Lanka only announced the ban on travelers from the six countries on Monday. However, just a day later, on 30th June, the government revoked the ban and offered a hotel quarantine as an alternative. The ban was scheduled to last for two starts, starting July 1st.

Qatar Airways, Boeing 787-9, Business Class
The Middle East is home to thousands of Sri Lankan expatriates, which impacts travel plans for many. Photo: Qatar Airways

This confused response has resulted in airlines not updating their travel guidance at the time of publishing this article. Emirates states all travelers staying in the six Gulf countries in the last 14 days cannot fly to Colombo from July 1st onwards. However, these will likely be amended in the coming hours once a formal clarification is received.

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High cases

The reason for Sri Lanka’s travel ban has been a high number of positive arrivals from the Middle East. In total, 110 passengers on Monday (28th June) alone tested positive for COVID-19. In a statement, a government spokesperson said, 

“This is of great concern. They [passengers from Gulf countries] arrive with negative PCR test results. Now it is a question of the validity of those PCR tests. Passengers are testing positive upon arrival after a flight of between 3-4 hours. There is an issue and concerns have been raised in this regard.”

Sri Lanka Eases Middle East Travel Ban
110 arrivals from the six countries tested positive on arrival in Sri Lanka, causing the ban. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

However, considering the high demand for returning passengers, Sri Lanka seems to have opted to remove the ban. Hotel quarantine with testing is a strong measure to prevent more imported cases of COVID-19 in the future. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the UK all use hotel quarantines for arrivals from high-risk or all countries.

Reopening

Despite these latest travel restrictions, Sri Lanka is reopening to tourists. Vaccinated travelers can already enter the country without quarantine, while unvaccinated passengers can only stay within certain tourist bubbles. However, the tourism economy has been impacted by a massive second wave of cases, which has led to many restrictions. Daily cases remain over 1,500 even now, preventing a full reopening.

For now, travelers from the Middle East will be happy to know that they can return home. However, a costly hotel quarantine could be a prohibiting factor for many and exemptions for vaccinated travelers remain unclear.

What do you think about Sri Lanka’s changing travel restrictions? Let us know in the comments!

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