Sri Lanka will restrict daily visitor numbers to 2,500, authorities said on Thursday, as it cautiously opened its doors to foreign tourists again after a 10-month coronavirus shutdown.
The reopening comes despite a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths, as authorities seek to revive a once-lucrative tourism sector devastated by the deadly 2019 Easter bombings and the pandemic.
The cap on visitors will help stop the island nation’s coronavirus testing facilities from becoming overwhelmed, according to the Tourism Promotion Bureau.
“We have placed a daily limit of 2,500 tourists to make sure that there are enough PCR tests for repatriating Sri Lankans,” tourism chief Kimarli Fernando told reporters in the capital Colombo.
Qatar Airways, Emirates and several other airlines currently operate repatriation and transit flights, and have brought home some 40,000 Sri Lankans since late July.
But another 68,000 are waiting to return, according to the government.
Sri Lankan doctors have called for a ramp up in PCR testing amid a surge in infections since October, that has seen the number of cases spike from 3,300 to more than 55,000.
Fernando said the immigration department has issued 75 tourist visas since officials announced the reopening on Monday.
“Not big numbers, but we have to make a start. Hotels are getting a lot of inquiries,” she said.
The government has set strict Covid-19 protocols for visitors, including limiting them to 55 designated hotels, requiring a negative PCR test result before arrival and insurance to cover Covid-19 related illnesses.
Some 2.3 million tourists visited the sun-soaked country in 2018 — the highest-ever.
But foreign visitor numbers fell to 1.9 million the following year after the deadly Easter bombings in April.