Some returnees from abroad awaiting to be quarantined at a local hotel
- Pic courtesy Citrus Resorts and Hotels.
Making big money on a humanitarian note?
Part of 228 returnees had to be shifted from a hotel in Anuradhapura to another hotel in Marawila due to lack of space
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) the risk of contracting COVID-19 on board a flight is very low
Although the form mentions that the quarantine charge at a hotel is Rs. 7500 per person, once they arrive the charges vary
Returnees who come free of charge are selected by the Embassies depending on their employment status and mode of income
It is only the authorities in the Army who decide where these people are to be sent to. This depends on transport arrangements and equal opportunities being given to all the hotels
An official at Aitken Spence Hotels told the Daily Mirror that none of the hotels are being used as quarantine centres and that they will resume operations this week depending on the curfew situation
As many as 43,000 Sri Lankans stranded overseas have been repatriated to Sri Lanka and operations are underway to repatriate more once the prevailing situation is under control. Returnees have to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine and apart from Government-run quarantine centres, several hotels have also been converted to quarantine centres for those who can afford a paid quarantine. But returnees have observed varying quarantine charges and it was later found that several private entities are also involved in repatriating Sri Lankans and ‘assisting’ the Government in this process.
Concerns from returnees
Several returnees complained that one way return tickets were expensive and that flights had full capacity with few health protocols being practised. At the airport they are subject to PCR tests and are being asked to choose where they want to be quarantined and depending on that they have to queue up to be taken to a hotel or a Government-administered quarantine centre. Several passengers however had concerns as many passengers returning from USA and mainland Europe were also connected to their flights. Two weeks prior to their arrival they are given a health declaration form including the quarantine rates. Although the form mentions that the quarantine charge at a hotel is Rs. 7500 per person, once they arrive the charges vary.
"Later on we opened a hotel option for those who would like to pay and get themselves quarantined. Then some private companies started sending charter flights to certain countries"
Repatriation process explained
Airing his comments, Sri Lanka Army Commander and Head of the National Operations Centre for the Prevention of COVID-19 Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva said that initially people had to buy a ticket from the respective airline they were travelling in and once they arrived they were sent for quarantining. “These were mostly aircraft sent by the Government. Later on we opened a hotel option for those who would like to pay and get themselves quarantined. Then some private companies started sending charter flights to certain countries. A charter flight means they are given a package including the airfare, PCR tests, hotel charge etc. The per head cost for a person sharing a room is Rs. 7500 while the cost per person opting for a single room is Rs. 12,500,”
However there were certain complaints made by returnees about family members being shuffled when sending them to quarantine centres. In response Lt. General Silva said that where they would get quarantined is solely their choice. “If a family comes they are being put together. At the beginning of the process some hotels such as Citrus, Dolphin and Jetwing said they will give us their hotels for quarantining purposes. Then some other big hotels followed and even some small hotels came forward because they didn’t have much business. We opted for hotels with 60-75 rooms because everything has to be manned. This is because it is easier trying to fill one hotel than going to 10 different locations. They cannot leave the premises for 14 days and even the staff can’t go out because there’s always a risk of the virus spreading to the community. The Army, Navy and Airforce provided the security detail. Right now there are very less hotels doing the quarantine process because after October 5 we stopped repatriating flights and the 14-day quarantine period is now coming to an end,” he added.
Can you contract COVID-19 on board a flight?
Several passengers had concerns about flights coming in full capacity. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) the risk of contracting COVID-19 on board a flight is very low.
The reasons are as follows :
Seating position : Most of the time you are seated facing forward rather than facing another person. This makes a difference in the chance of breathing in someone else’s expelled breath.
Seat backs : High seat backs act as a solid barrier High airflow rate : Research has shown that the airflow in an aircraft (from ceiling to flow) is less conductive to droplet spread than other similar environments or modes of transport
Air exchange : Modern jet aircraft deliver high airflow and replacement rates, combined with hospital-grade High Efficiency Particulate Air that is effective at removing viruses, bacteria and fungi. Cabin air is exchanged every 2-3 minutes.
Apart from that, personal overhead ventilation strengthens airflow downwards and it is mandatory for all passengers to wear masks throughout the travel process, thereby lowering risk of transmission.
Hotels sealed off to the public
When inquired, Sri Lanka Hotels Association President Sanath Ukwatte said that the charge per person on a full board basis is Rs. 7500. “If two people are sharing a room it will be Rs. 15,000.” When asked about challenges faced during the quarantine process he said that hotels are sealed off to the public and therefore they cannot have any local guests or do business.
The Daily Mirror also learned that several other private entities such as Avant-Garde Maritime Services and Citrus Hotels are also involved in repatriating as well as sending returnees to quarantine centres. Returnees being quarantined under Avant-Garde are being charged Rs. 151,800 ($825) per person when sharing a room while those opting for a single room is being charged Rs. 196,512 ($1068). This cost includes two PCR tests, travel charges from the airport to the hotel and rates for the 14-day quarantine. According to them, the profits made are being utilized to repatriate selected Sri Lankans free-of-charge. This paper is in possession of requests made by Sri Lankan Embassies in Germany and Dubai appreciating Avant-Garde group for the initiative. Returnees who come free of charge are selected by the Embassies depending on their employment status and mode of income.
However a video circulating on social media showed several returnees not allowed entry into a hotel in Anuradhapura. Referring to the incident, Head of IT at Avant-Garde Maritime Services Rohan Munasinghe said that on September 18, 200 returnees from Italy were expected to return. “They were to be taken to Palm Garden Hotel in Anuradhapura. However there were 228 of them and there wasn’t enough space at the Anuradhapura hotel. Therefore we took the additional 28 returnees to Club Palm Bay in Marawila and took 50% off what they paid as quarantine charges. As such a total of Rs. 6.1 million rupees were refunded.”
"If somebody has thought that way that is not very intelligent. Somebody who had ever been to a hotel would know that there is a thing called per-room, per-person and sharing double room and that is a known common fact"
Hotel quarantine is a very costly affair- Dilith Jayaweera
One of the first hotel groups that undertook to offer their hotels for fee paying quarantine process was Citrus Group and its Chairman Dilith Jayaweera says that it was not very intelligent to think to have a five star hotel room for an individual at Rs. 7500.
“The government rate goes as Rs. 7500 per person sharing a double room which means the room is Rs 15000. So if somebody doesn’t want to share a double room that means the individual is willing to pay Rs 15,000. Our hotels are charging Rs 1000 less; which amounts to Rs. 14,000” said Jayaweera. He said that the rate reflects the Tourist Board stipulated figures for star class hotels.
Asked as to whether these details had been properly and clearly conveyed to the passengers checking into the hotels he replied in the affirmative.
Further inquiring whether there were complaints by the returnees regarding they not being clearly informed of the rates of single sharing basis and the double sharing basis, Jayaweera said, “If somebody has thought that way that is not very intelligent. Somebody who had ever been to a hotel would know that there is a thing called per-room, per-person and sharing double room and that is a known common fact,”.
However Jayaweera said that his company hadn’t received any complaints because at the entrance itself those undergoing quarantine had been clearly informed about the rates. He also said that there are exceptional cases where returnees like Buddhist monks, priests or disabled people are given rooms on a complementary basis as well.
When asked as to who and how decisions on the returnees are made Jayaweera said, “It is only the authorities in the Army who decide where these people are to be sent to. This depends on their transport arrangements and the fact that equal opportunities have to be given to all the hotels”.
“Most of the hotels are getting may be around 20 to 50 percent occupancy every other month. It is not that they are full all the time. After every quarantine cycle those rooms have to be closed for another seven days,” is how he explained the procedure.
Elaborating on the challenges of providing hotels for quarantine procedures Jayaweera said that when an hotel is provided for a quarantine process, all the expenses would remain at the same level and additionally about 20 rooms had to be given for doctors, nurses and army personnel. After a 14-day cycle the staff also have to be kept for another 14 days at the hotel. “If you do it properly it is a very costly affair,” he added.
Aitken Spence Hotels temporarily closed
A public notice on Aitken Spence Hotels website states that ‘Heritance’ and ‘Turya’ brands along with Amethyst Resort will be closed till October 28 while the Heritance Tea Factory will remain closed till November 4. However an official at Aitken Spence Hotels told the Daily Mirror that none of the hotels are being used as quarantine centres and that they will resume operations this week depending on the curfew situation.
"Right now there are no hotels being used for quarantining as there are no passengers coming in"
No quarantine centres under Jetwing Hotels
Hotels coming under the Jetwing Group including Jetwing Blue, Jetwing Sea, Jetwing Beach and Jetwing Lagoon were used for quarantine purposes. “Right now there are no hotels being used for quarantining as there are no passengers coming in,”
said Jetwing Hotels Chairman Shiromal Cooray. “The rates are Rs. 7500 per person per day whereas the charges for a double room are Rs. 15,000,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Susitha Fernando and Gihan de Chickera)
At the beginning of the process some hotels such as Citrus, Dolphin (shown in the picture) and Jetwing said they will give us their hotels for quarantining purposes
Without any facilities, this rate is too high. Is this rate Rs. 7500 per day is to sit inside a room only?
I think this rate is far too much, just to be confined to a room.
Why not have an all around payment for 14 days. (A fair rate)
Senaka Wijesundera Thursday, 29 October 2020 08:24 AM
Is 7500/ or 15,000/- per day or for the whole 14 day quarantine. ???
Don Thursday, 29 October 2020 08:33 AM
Most popular racketeers in Sri Lanka are minting money in the name of COVID quarantine.
maxi perera Thursday, 29 October 2020 02:11 PM
Its seems there is no clear mechanisms made by the authorities. It very pathetic how they hv undermined overseas workers value n value to the country... the amount being charged is absolutely high. Look at other countries India and Philippine how they treat their own people who work in overseas
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