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Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka from UK? Foreign Office travel advice and Covid restrictions amid unrest

A state of emergency has been declared in Sri Lanka amid widespread public protests as the country faces its worst economic crisis in decades

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since its independence and is on the brink of bankruptcy.

The country has suspended payments on its foreign loans and its 22 million people are facing shortages of food, fuel and other essentials.

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So what has happened in the country, and is it safe for UK visitors to travel there? This is what you need to know.

A state of emergency has been declared in Sri Lanka (Photo: Getty Images)

What is happening in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has now resigned after weeks of widespread protests and a no-confidence motion in Parliament.

Mr Rajapaksa stood down after being blamed alongside his brother President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for leading the country to its worst economic crisis in decades.

Protesters swarmed the entrance to the President’s office in the capital, Colombo, for a 32nd day to demand he follow in his sibling’s footsteps.

The site outside Mr Rajapaksa’s office has seen sustained crowds of thousands for more than a month, although numbers dropped on Tuesday (10 May) to a few hundred due to a strict curfew which has been imposed until Wednesday.

Government supporters gather outside the President’s office in Colombo (Photo: Getty Images)

Armed troops were deployed after violence erupted on Monday night (9 May), which saw more than a dozen houses belonging to ruling party leaders vandalised and set on fire, and at least four people, including a ruling party politician, were killed and nearly 200 were hurt.

Imports of everything from milk to fuel have plunged, spawning dire food shortages and rolling power cuts, and people have been forced to queue for hours to buy essentials. Doctors have also warned of crippling shortages of life-saving drugs in hospitals, and the government has suspended payments on £5.6 billion in foreign debt due this year alone.

Other global factors have also contributed to the crisis, including the impact of the pandemic on the country’s tourism industry and the Russia-Ukraine war pushing up global oil prices, and both the President and Prime Minister have since admitted to mistakes that exacerbated the crisis, including conceding they should have sought an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bail-out sooner.

The President reached out to the IMF in March after citizens had been enduring critical shortages of fuel, cooking gas and medicine for months already, and talks to set up a rescue plan are being held, with progress dependent on negotiations on debt restructuring with creditors. However, any long-term plan would take at least six months to get underway.

Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka?

The UK Foreign Office is not currently advising against travel to Sri Lanka but warns an island-wide curfew is currently in effect and several violent incidents took place on Monday, including in the Galle Face area where authorities used tear gas and water cannons.

Incidents also occurred in Independence Square, the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre in Colombo, near Beira Lake in Colombo and in Kandy.

The deteriorating economic situation in the country is causing shortages of basic necessities, including medicines, fuel and food.

As such, there may be long queues at grocery stores, petrol stations and pharmacies, and local authorities may impose rationing of electricity, resulting in power outages.

Buses used by Rajapaksa loyalists to travel to Colombo were torched or damaged by protestors (Photo: Getty Images)

Protests have been ongoing since 31 March 2022 and a state of emergency was declared on 6 May.

There are reports that further protests are likely to take place across the island and the government may impose local restrictions at short notice. Strikes may also take place with little notice, which could cause disruption to services such as transport operations.

Travellers are advised to avoid all protests, demonstrations or large gatherings, and to follow the advice of the local authorities. It is also advised that you carry your passport as official identification with you at all times.

What are the Covid restrictions in Sri Lanka?

Due to a prevalence of Covid cases in the community, changes could be made to flights and airport operations at short notice, and lockdowns or travel restrictions may be imposed in affected areas.

Regulations are in place to enforce social distancing and the wearing of a face mask in public areas. Anyone who does not adhere to the restrictions and local guidelines could risk arrest.

Most hotels and guesthouses are now open to foreign nationals, although there have been reports of late-notice room booking cancellations, so travellers are advised to check in advance with travel agents or accommodation providers. Social distancing and other public health measures, such as temperature checks, may be in place and some hotels may require evidence of a negative PCR test on arrival.

All visitors are advised to apply online for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) to enter Sri Lanka.

Fully vaccinated travellers are not required to take a pre-departure Covid test before arrival. Your final vaccine dose must have been administered at least 14 days prior to travel and Sri Lanka will only accept the UK’s printed version of proof of COVID-19 recovery and vaccination record. They will not accept digital proof

Travellers aged 12 and over that are unvaccinated travellers must show proof of either a negative PCR test, taken no more than 72 hours before travel, or a negative Rapid Antigen Test report, taken within 48 hours before travel. Self-swab tests will not be recognised.

Unvaccinated children aged 11 years and under of fully vaccinated parents who are tourists or foreign nationals, are allowed to travel with fully vaccinated parents. Children between the age of 1 and 18 who have had at least one dose of a recognised vaccine (at least two weeks before travel) will be considered ‘fully vaccinated’.

Unvaccinated children between the age of 12 and 18 will need to show proof of either a negative PCR test, taken no more than 72 hours before travel, or a negative Rapid Antigen Test report, taken within 48 hours before travel.