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Fear of Covid-19 spread forces Sri Lanka to reduce its Parliament sessions

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Sri Lanka has curtailed this week’s Parliament sessions to just two days from the scheduled four days after nine people tested positive for coronavirus in the Parliament complex, an official said on Monday.

Parliament’s Director of Communications Shan Wijetunga said a total of 943 tests were conducted in Parliament, out of which 32 were on MPs, while the rest were done on Parliament staff and security personnel.

While all the 32 MPs tested negative, 9 people tested positive for Covid-19, including 4 staff members and as many security personnel, he said.

The Committee on Parliamentary Business has decided that Parliament will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday only, following the Covid-19 cases reported last week, the official said.

Priyal Nishantha, a state minister, has tested positive. Nishantha had consumed the locally-produced anti-Covidtonic along with several other parliamentarians last month, the official said, adding that the political parties represented in Parliament have agreed to limit this week’s sessions due to pandemic concerns.

Despite ongoing fears, the government will open the airports for foreigners from January 21.

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said the authorities had learned lessons from a pilot project which brought in groups of Ukrainian tourists.

“The pilot project has been a success and there were over 1500 Ukrainian tourists who came, bringing in 42 million rupees”, Ranatunga said.

Sri Lanka was hit by the second coronavirus wave in October. Earlier last month, Sri Lankan authorities said they would resume international flight operations from December 26.

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However, the latest date for re-opening international travel was also deferred. Chair of Airports Authority GA Chandrasiri said the delay was caused by the new strain of coronavirus, which has forced parts of Europe into tougher virus restrictions.

The Sri Lankan government incentivised air travel in the months following the COVID-19-induced air travel break, offering zero parking fees and landing costs for international operators.

Sri Lanka had seen a major surge in Covid-19 infections since early October. The number of deaths which stood at just 13 by October has now gone past 260 while the number of cases is above 53,000.

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