COVID-19 that first appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, China became a global pandemic by end January 2020. Up to now this has infected 28 million people in 188 countries and territories and caused 910,000 deaths all over the world. This virtually brought the world to a stand still requiring quarantine of 10 per cent [...]

Business Times

Air transport and quarantine in the ‘New Normal’


File picture of a SriLankan Airlines' plane. The airline has been operating flights to repatriate Sri Lankans working overseas.

COVID-19 that first appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, China became a global pandemic by end January 2020. Up to now this has infected 28 million people in 188 countries and territories and caused 910,000 deaths all over the world. This virtually brought the world to a stand still requiring quarantine of 10 per cent of the global population.

Since December 2019 to September 2020, COVID-19 (C19) has influenced changes in our ways of life hitherto never imagined. Quarantine, lockdowns and shutdowns have disrupted life, supply chains of goods and services, caused unemployment and business collapses. The ‘new normal’ is still emerging and yet undefined. The challenges posed by C19 are still dominant and is expected to rise wave upon wave from micro to macro levels depending on how stringent it is managed. Work on developing a vaccine is also not forthcoming due to variance and mutation in the virus.

C19 has opened new battlegrounds and many of which are yet to be discerned. One area that this has challenged is globalization and resultant geopolitics affecting political economy of countries whose economy is dependent on migrant labour and their remittances.

Migrant workers are citizens of one country living and working in a host country as employed labour. They contribute to the host country economy and their product of labour by way of remittances helps their motherland sustain the economy. Their quality of life and the way how they are treated in the host country depends on the quality of their employment and the bilateral trade relationship their motherland has with the host country.

C19 has impacted migrant workers severely affecting their lives, employment and tenements undermining their very livelihood. As a result, some have become unemployed and homeless in a foreign land. Their daily sustenance, children’s education and safe shelter are affected. In this emergency, the host governments’ priority is their own citizens and recalibration of their society and economy to ‘new normal’. At this point, host countries want the expatriate labour, who have been on the streets, to be repatriated to their country of origin. Similarly, the expatriate workers too wish to return to their motherland and some are awaiting state sponsored rescue from their respective governments.

Upto now, the Sri Lankan government has repatriated about 26,000 migrant workers from host countries and it is said that there are about another 51,000 awaiting repatriation mainly from the GCC countries. The government of Sri Lanka has done the best in containing local spread of C19 and has effectively controlled entry ports from allowing new C19 entrants. Of the repatriated lot, all have gone through quarantine at the state established centres helping them join their families in safe and sanitized conditions. Limited quarantine facilities are a bottleneck affecting the repatriation process causing delays in repatriating the balance 51,000. As time goes by, these 51,000 potential returnees would potentially increase influenced by post-C19 conditions and could turn this into a time bomb affecting commercial relationship between countries. This can affect our future foreign employment prospects and national integrity. Should our expatriate population become burdensome to host countries during emergencies like C19, some countries may possibly limit future employment opportunities to Sri Lanka. This can become a new problem to an ailing economy dependent on foreign remittances. Therefore, repatriating stranded migrant workers is an urgent imperative from socio-economic and political perspectives. This is an unforeseen challenge from C19 and the situation would be exacerbated by the ensuing reverse migration taking place due to changing economic conditions in the host countries. Sri Lanka has overcome a more difficult challenge than this. We effectively contained C19 from community spread which many other countries have failed. Therefore, this challenge needs to be met with vigour and foresight into the future economic and trade relations with host countries. One way that this can be solved is by increasing the capacity of quarantine facilities so that the repatriation process can be fast forwarded.

In addition to capacity building of quarantine facilities, as an alternative a systemic solution has to be used to face this challenge should it last long. Being in the 10th month since the C19 emergence, some countries are yet to come to the peak of the C19 threat and our neighboring India is struggling against the pandemic. Considering the trajectories followed in different countries and the micro, mini and mega waves of C19 spread taking place in different situation, it is possible that C19 and its aftermath may span between five to 10 years compounded by other factors like climate change and environmental pollution. In the ensuing period there is potential for intermittent waves of infections in the world. Such an eventuality would stalemate this and the ‘new normal’ will be more painful. Therefore, considering a stalemated situation spanning five to 10 years till normalcy returns, quarantining would become part of the ‘new normal’ and quarantine facilities need to be established as a permanent feature in the architecture of the entry ports in the country. In analyzing this situation, that there are two dominant stakeholders which play a major role in facilitating human traffic across borders. They are the airport/seaport authorities and the airlines. Both have responsibilities and have to de diligent in securing the country against C19 import.

Airport/Seaport Authorities (ASA)

ASA must build permanent, purpose-made quarantine facilities near entry ports at least to last the next 10 years. This would enable other state agencies to join hands in effectively managing contingencies and isolate this problem from affecting ordinary life in the country. These facilities can be run on a commercial basis with a nominal fee levied on the patient so that the facility will not become a burden to the authorities.


Similarly, airlines can factor the cost of quarantine in the cost of the air ticket so that the passenger safety is guaranteed from port to port transit. The airlines can also tie up with hotels which are purpose-made to function as quarantine facilities concurrent with oversight by other state agencies managing security protocols and quality management etc.

ASA and airlines’ partnership establishing quarantine facilities and factoring quarantine cost in the air ticket would help ease the current situation. This would also evolve as a new business feature ensuring that passenger transport in the ‘new normal’ is well coordinated and streamlined to help revive international travel and tourism safely. This would ensure that transporting healthy passengers and ensuring their safety through proper quarantine would become part and parcel of customer care in the ‘new normal’.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.