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Sri Lankan media questions presence of 35 Seychellois patients | 27 May 2020

Thirty-five Seychellois patients left the country on board a special Air Seychelles flight on Saturday for Sri Lanka to follow advanced treatment and a lot has since been written about their presence in the Indian Ocean island country.

In its article entitled ‘The Seychelles 35: Who are they, and why are they in SL?’, Sri Lankan newspaper Newsfirst queried the Sri Lankan government regarding the 35 Seychelles nationals brought to Sri Lanka.

Questioning the director general of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Relations Kandeepan Balasupramaniam, journalists pointed out that the government has drawn flak for giving prominence to bringing down 35 Seychelles nationals to the country while there are in excess of 40,000 Sri Lankans residing overseas, requesting to be repatriated.

In response the director general of the Ministry of Foreign Relations said, the 35 Seychelles nationals were brought to the island following a request made by them to utilise medical facilities in the island, highlighting that Sri Lanka had a superior healthcare sector to that of the Seychelles.

He added the move was also considered through a humanitarian aspect, also taking into account the healthy bilateral relationship between Sri Lanka and the Seychelles.

Journalists further questioned if similar requests made in the future would be accommodated. In reply, the director general of the Ministry of Foreign Relations revealed that the Maldives had also made such a request but did not comment further.

Another Sri Lankan newspaper, EconomyNext quoted Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) of the opposition party saying the government must explain on whose directive 35 Seychelles nationals were brought to Sri Lanka and why they were allegedly prioritised over thousands of Sri Lankans stranded abroad.

Still according to EconomyNext, the decision to fly in the Seychellois was made against a backdrop of some 40,000 Sri Lankans abroad who have requested repatriation. According to former JVP MP Sunil Handunneththi there are over 300 Sri Lankan nationals currently stranded in Seychelles itself.

“Instead of prioritising the repatriation of Sri Lankans, why this urgency to bring in foreign nationals to the country? The government and the foreign relations ministry must explain who these individuals are, on whose request they were flown in and who approved the decision,” said former JVP MP Sunil Handunneththi.

Meanwhile, a statement from the high commission of Seychelles thanked Sri Lanka for its assistance.

“We wish to place on record our gratitude to the government of Sri Lanka, its ministry of foreign affairs and ministry of health, for enabling the visit of a group of 35 citizens of Seychelles, 24 of whom require urgent medical care, of whom 11 critical patients are being accompanied by their relatives, for coronary angiography and angioplasty, tetralogy fallout corrective surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, retinal detachment repair and many other high end surgery and interventions,” wrote the statement.

According to the high commission’s statement, the Air Seychelles flight that flew in the purported medical tourists had on its turnaround flight taken back 14 Seychelles nationals who had found themselves stranded in Sri Lanka owing to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The high commission claimed that the 35 patients had “fulfilled all precautionary measures including the PCR tests in Seychelles and were cleared for foreign travel”.

“On arrival, they were transferred to a hotel in Wadduwa for paid quarantine and were under the watchful eyes of the Sri Lankan army and ministry of health, thereby complying fully with the quarantine protocol of the government of Sri Lanka,” it added.

Hemas hospital, the statement went on to say, had conducted PCR tests on the 35 patients, all of which turned out negative.

On completion of the quarantine period and clearance obtained after a second round of PCR testing for COVID-19, the Seychelles high commission said, the patients will be admitted to Hemas Hospitals in Thalawathugoda and Wattala to continue their treatment and procedures.

The Seychelles side further wishes to state that there have been no active COVID-19 cases in Seychelles since May 7, 2020 after the last of 11 positive patients was discharged from its quarantine centre. It is also to be noted that Seychelles is testing for seven gene targets with RSPCR, making the test accurate in terms of specificity and sensitivity. Seychelles implemented very strict measures to contain and control the spread of the virus and its international airport is only to be reopened on June 1, 2020. The last case (11th) was detected on April 6 and no deaths have been recorded which gives the country a clean COVID-19 bill.

“Sri Lanka has been a preferred destination for medical tourism among the Seychelles nationals over last few years and we wish to thank Hemas Hospitals for their untiring effort in facilitating the visit of this group of patients and wish to state that this travel is testament to the trust and credibility on the health system of Sri Lanka. This also highlights the confidence Seychelles has on Sri Lanka as a safe destination to send their non COVID patients for treatment even during a pandemic. We salute the armed forces and the medical teams in Sri Lanka led by His Excellency President Gotabhaya Rajapakse for managing the pandemic very well that has given us the confidence to select Sri Lanka for medical treatment for foreign patients needing urgent critical care.

“This is yet another milestone in promoting the long standing bilateral relationship between the two nations,” adds the statement from the Seychelles high commission.


Compiled by Gerard Govinden


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