The Government on Saturday began an accelerated COVID vaccination program of frontline tourism sector employees to enable a quicker rebound of the industry.
Over 1,000 persons engaged in the industry including hotel employees, tour guides, safari drivers were vaccinated at four locations in the Hambantota District on Saturday (10).
The vaccination program is expected to cover all tourist destinations in the country within this month. Close to 500,000 people are directly engaged in the tourism industry, whilst nearly two million are dependent on the sector.
Since the reopening of the borders on 21 January post-pandemic, a total of 17,642 tourists have arrived up to 30 June amidst travel restrictions and limitations. Of this, only 188 have been reported COVID-19 positive and 138 of them have recovered and returned to their homeland.
Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said the Government intended to make Sri Lanka COVID-free by the end of the year with the accelerated vaccination program.
“We hope to make Sri Lanka a safer country for tourists under this program,” he told journalists during the inspections at Double Tree by Hilton vaccination centre in Weerawila.
The Minister said the vaccination program would also be extended to tourism industry frontline workers immediate family members.
“The vaccination program is one of the key initiatives we have launched in preparation for the gradual opening of our borders to tourists from around the world. We will not allow the arrival of tourists to Sri Lanka to spread COVID to our communities. Although we did not allow such a space, the Opposition keeps on alleging that COVID-19 was spread by tourists who visited the country in the recent past — but this accusation is completely baseless,” Ranatunga said.
Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa emphasised that the country had reached a critical juncture in the implementation of the largest vaccination program in the history of Sri Lanka.
“We have now embarked on a program to reopen the country that was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and to improve economic and social stability. The successful implementation of the vaccination program covering the entire country is critical to reopen and restart economic activities,” he added.
Describing Sri Lanka as one of the most successful countries in controlling the pandemic in the South Asian region, Rajapaksa said the country was the first South Asian country to launch a tourism pilot project through a bio-bubble system.
“We started last year’s LPL tournament under the bio-bubble system. At that time, even neighbouring India was not ready to host such games. Inspired by us, later South Asian countries started hosting sports through the bio-bubble system,” he added.
He commended the strong and proactive health authorities, all public servants and citizens for all their sacrifices, patience and cooperation to control the pandemic despite the severe economic hardships faced.
“Today we are implementing the largest vaccination program in the history of Sri Lanka. What is special about this is that we are implementing a program to vaccinate occupations that are of economic importance and have a direct impact on the country’s economy,” Rajapaksa said.
He said the vaccination program for investment zones, industrial estates and small and medium enterprises was launched last week.