Protests in Sri Lanka: is it safe for tourists and what is the latest government advice?

Sri Lanka remains under a nationwide curfew after violent anti-government protests erupted across the country in March.

The island nation is a popular destination among backpackers and vacationers, so what does the security situation mean for travellers?

The UK now advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to the South Asian nation, as do Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Following the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Friday update, Tui has canceled all public holidays in Sri Lanka until at least the end of the month.

The operator adds that “this advice does not apply to customers transiting through Sri Lanka International Airport and customers currently in resort can continue to enjoy their holiday as planned”.

Here’s what you need to know about the country’s ongoing political and economic unrest – and what to do if you’re currently in Sri Lanka or planning a trip.

What’s going on in Sri Lanka?

In recent months, an unprecedented economic crisis has led to shortages of essentials like medicine and cooking gas, as well as widespread power cuts.

Mass protests against the government erupted in late March, with clashes between protesters and government supporters and armed police. Over 200 people were injured and at least eight killed during the unrest.

A new interim prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, was appointed on Thursday after Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned May 9. But protesters are also calling on his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to step down. Thousands of people protested outside his office in the capital, Colombo.

Protesters also burned dozens of homes and cars belonging to senior politicians.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis is linked to its status as a major tourist destination. The country’s foreign exchange reserves have virtually dried up, in part due to the shortage of tourism during the pandemic.

Wickremesinghe proposed to privatize the loss-making national carrier Sri Lankan airlines in an effort to help stabilize the nation’s finances.

How to stay safe

The Sri Lankan government announced a “state of emergency” on May 6. This means they have the power to make security announcements – such as curfews – at short notice.

Be sure to check local news and official updates regularly, as well as refer to your own government’s travel advice.

Foreign governments, including the UK, have advised visitors already in Sri Lanka to avoid protest areas as demonstrations have at times turned violent and police have responded with tear gas and water cannons.

The protests have been concentrated around the capital, Colombo, with several violent incidents in the Galle Face area. But be careful wherever you go, as unrest is present throughout the country.

Can we go out in Sri Lanka despite the curfew?

Under the curfew, it is forbidden to go out and move around.

from Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority advised tourists to stay in their hotel or accommodation until their departure flight.

Authorities say travelers can show their passports and plane tickets to get past curfew on the way to the airport.

It’s a good idea to check with your airline and taxi company before you go, as widespread strikes can also disrupt journeys.

Will my vacation be cancelled?

Sri Lanka is often described as a “destination all year round“Due to its warm climate, many people may plan a visit during the summer months.

Tui has decided to cancel all public holidays until May 31, in light of stricter advice from the FCDO. “We will proactively contact all affected customers in order of departure date to discuss their options,” the operator said yesterday.

Despite the unrest, not all tour operators have canceled planned trips to the country, but some have changed their itineraries to include more time in resort towns, which are farther from the focal points of the protests. It’s always worth asking the company you booked with.

If you decide to cancel your holiday yourself, keep in mind that travel insurers are unlikely to cover you, especially if your home country has not advised you against traveling to Sri Lanka.

Are there still any COVID-19 related restrictions in Sri Lanka?

Apart from the security situation, it is also important to consider the ongoing coronavirus restrictions in Sri Lanka.

Those still wishing to travel to the country must complete a health declaration form and take out COVID-19 insurance for around €11.50.

Fully vaccinated visitors do not have to take a PCR test before departure, but unvaccinated travelers must take tests before departure and upon arrival.

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