UK warns against travel to Sri Lanka

The island nation has been rocked by civil unrest during its worst economic crisis in seven decades

Air Force members stand guard at a petrol station in Sri Lanka as people queue to buy fuel. Reuters
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The UK Foreign Office has issued warnings against travelling to Sri Lanka, in yet more unwelcome news for British holidaymakers.

On Tuesday, the UK government warned against “all but essential” travel to the South Asian island nation as it tackles its worst economic crisis in 70 years since independence.

The advice said that the country of 22 million people was facing shortages of basic necessities including medicines, cooking gas, fuel and food.

The shortages are affecting transport, businesses, and emergency services, including schools, which are closed for lack of fuel to transport children and teachers to them. There are daily power cuts due to electricity rationing.

Economic mismanagement and the impact of the Covid pandemic has left the country unable to pay for essential imports of food, medicines and fuel.

The country has been rocked by civil unrest for months as anger builds over the government's apparent mishandling of the economic crisis.

Mass fight cancellations by British Airways and planned strike action by airport workers are already wreaking havoc on the UK’s summer travel plans.

The Foreign Office warned holidaymakers could encounter “demonstrations, roadblocks and violent unrest at short notice” in Sri Lanka.

A former British colony until independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has remained a popular destination for UK tourists. Nearly 200,000 Britons travelled to Sri Lanka in 2019, but this figure dropped to just over 55,000 in 2020 with the onset of Covid-19.

The Sri Lankan government has blamed the pandemic for affecting the country's tourist trade, which is one of its biggest foreign currency earners.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also Sri Lanka’s minister of finance, took over the Cabinet’s top spot in May after his predecessor resigned following weeks of protests against his government.

Mr Wickremesinghe announced plans to present a debt restructuring plan to the International Monetary Fund by the end of August, in a bid to win approval for a four-year funding programme.

However, he admitted that efforts to arrange a bailout from the IMF had been hindered by the severity of its financial crisis.

Updated: July 11, 2022, 11:52 AM