ILLUMINATION
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ILLUMINATION

Travel Stories

Travelling Internationally After The Pandemic

My story on flying to Sri Lanka and coming back to the UK

Sri Lanka — A Photo by Dinuka Lankaloka on Unsplash

Background

I am a Sri Lankan living in the UK. When I first left Sri Lanka in 2018 April, I planned to go back there once or twice every year. I was telling my parents I am just 13 hours away. All went well until the pandemic hit. My 13-hour journey became complicated with various quarantine measures and approvals.

First, Sri Lanka closed its borders. If I were to go there, I had to stay 14 days in a government quarantine centre before I go home. Then the government couldn’t handle the number of Sri Lankans coming home especially due to pandemic job cuts. The next step was to introduce quarantine hotels, where you can choose to quarantine at a government centre for free or in a hotel room paid for by you. But still, you have to do the 14 days quarantine. This wasn’t bad. But it also meant you are spending 2 weeks of your precious holiday time stuck in a hotel room.

Sri Lankan economy is heavily dependent on tourism. After the war ended in 2009, tourism has become one of the flourishing industries until the easter attacks in 2019. For those who don’t know, the easter attacks have nothing to do with the war which was there. But it hurt Sri Lankan tourism a lot as they targeted a couple of top hotels. The pandemic came just when Sri Lankan tourism started to gain some traction after the Easter attacks.

Sri Lanka couldn’t afford another hit with tourism. So they started introducing a bio bubble.On paper, this sounds like the perfect plan. But in reality, there were so many loopholes. They started this tourism bio bubble when Sri Lanka recorded 0 community transmissions due to its strict lockdown and quarantine procedures. All the cases being reported were from people who travelled to Sri Lanka from outside and are now in the quarantine centres. Sri Lankans were angry that they had to quarantine while the tourists can freely roam.

Daily new cases statistics for Sri Lanka from Worldometers — A screenshot provided by the author

Needless to say, after a few weeks ( around 2020 October) the community transmissions began. Nobody knew from where this originated. Ever since then, Sri Lanka has weathered a few peaks. But with the vaccinations and lockdowns, it’s turning in a positive direction. But this time it was UK quarantine which was between me and my visit to Sri Lanka. Since Sri Lanka was on the UK red list, even though I was doubly vaccinated, I had to quarantine in a UK hotel, which was very expensive. I am already paying a fortune for the air ticket. This combined with quarantine hotel prices was too much.

Fortunately, Covid numbers started to show a positive trend in Sri Lanka. Then the UK reevaluated their traffic light system taking Sri Lanka off from the red list. This was great news because, at this point, even Sri Lanka let vaccinated Sri Lankan passport holders travel without needing to quarantine. Knowing this I gladly booked my return ticket even though this time it cost me nearly three times the price before the pandemic.

My Travel Experience

I was very careful to read all the travel guidelines in Sri Lanka and the UK regularly until the date of my travel. However, I did expect something or another to go wrong. But fortunately, it didn’t. When I checked in, the airline made sure that I have all the documents needed to travel to Sri Lanka and even gave me a copy of the health declaration form. This was unnecessary as they are distributed on the flight to Sri Lanka. So with my filled health declaration form, vaccination certificate and the negative PCR test, I arrived in Sri Lanka.

At the time of our arrival, Sri Lanka did not have a QR code system to submit the health declaration form. So it was all manual. The staff was efficient, but the travellers are not. The staff regularly kept advising travellers to have the health declaration, vaccination certificate and PCR test result ready when they come to the counter. But more than half of the people thought that it was okay to go to the counter and kept the personnel waiting until they found their documents from the bottom of their bags. The rest of the process was similar to pre-pandemic where you have to go through immigration and it was a breeze since we are Sri Lankan and did not need any visa verification.

Coming back was a little bit of a different story. UK does not need a negative PCR test, but you need to fill a passenger locator form ( I saw this as a longer form of Sri Lanka’s health declaration form ) providing your vaccination information and book a day two lateral flow test. But since we were visiting some of the crowded places in Sri Lanka, we did a PCR test, just to make sure we are not carrying any virus from Sri Lanka to the UK. This came as a blessing in disguise. Because ever since the entrance of the Sri Lankan airport, they kept asking for a negative PCR test. We even tried to explain at the check-in counter that we don’t need one to go to the UK, but halfway gave up and showed our PCR tests.

The UK border control took more time than usual. But I was surprised that they didn’t ask for the passenger locator form which I was supposed to fill before arriving in the UK. Then I figured since everything is centralized in the UK, they already have access to my records given the passport number.

Final Thoughts

It still felt a little bit weird to do international travel after the pandemic. But as I see it, covid is going to be among us for some time in the future. Of course, there will be better vaccinations and medicine and the death rates will plunge. It will eventually become a disease like the flu (This is not a fact, but my personal opinion). So we have to learn to live with it and start living life as we did pre-pandemic. Of course, there are some things which will never be the same again. But international travel will not be one of them.

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