HK issues red alert as Sri Lanka death toll hits 290

Top News | Sophie Hui and agencies 23 Apr 2019

Hong Kong has issued a Red Outbound Travel Alert for Sri Lanka as the death toll from the Easter Sunday bomb blasts rose to 290 people, with 500 injured.

The government also said Hongkongers in Sri Lanka who need help can call the 24-hour hotline of the Immigration Department or contact the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka.

At least three groups totaling 35 Hong Kong holidaymakers were in Sri Lanka yesterday, the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong said.

The Sri Lankan government believes a local Islamist group called the National Thowheeth Jama'ath was behind the attacks on churches and hotels. It declared a state of emergency last night.

Cabinet Minister Rajitha Senaratne said the government was investigating whether the group had international support.

"We are now investigating the international support for them, and their other links, how they produced the suicide bombers here, and how they produced bombs like this," he said.

The Minister of Tourism sad 39 foreign tourists were killed and 28 injured.

Eight Britons were among the dead.

A new blast hit a church in Colombo yesterday as police tried to defuse a bomb. It happened about 50 meters from St Anthony's Shrine, one of three churches targeted by the suicide bombers.

Police said they found 87 bomb detonators at a Colombo bus station.

Pope Francis yesterday deplored the attacks and called for universal condemnation of the inhuman terrorist acts that could never be justified. Speaking to thousands of people in St Peter's Square in Rome, he said he was close to the Catholics of Sri Lanka and was praying for the dead and injured.

Hong Kong's red alert is a reminder to those who intend to visit the country or are already there to exercise caution and attend to personal safety as there is a significant threat.

"Residents who intend to visit the country should adjust their travel plans and avoid non-essential travel, including leisure travel," a government spokesman said.

"Those already there should monitor the situation, exercise caution, attend to personal safety and avoid large gatherings of people."

Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan and southeastern provinces of Turkey are also on the red alert list.

The three-tier system, categorized as black, red and amber alerts, differentiates the level of risk of 88 countries or territories that are popular travel destinations for Hongkongers.

Syria is the only place with a black alert, meaning Hong Kong tourists face a severe threat there.

The travel industry council's executive director, Alice Chan Cheung Lok-yee, said one of the three tour groups will return to Hong Kong today, while the other two will return on Thursday and Friday.

There won't be any more tours to Sri Lanka this month.

"There are no groups in Colombo right now though one is flying out from there tonight. Two are in other parts of Sri Lanka," she said.

Two groups are with Sunflower Travel, while the other is under China Travel Service (Hong Kong).

Johnny So Tsz-yeung, general manager of Sunflower Travel, said all the tour members are safe and will continue with their journeys. None have asked to return to Hong Kong ahead of schedule.

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