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Unprecedented lull in business as festive buying takes a battering



by Suresh Perera

The raging Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to trade and business across the board with industry players describing the lull as “unprecedented” this festive season.

The crux of the matter was that people dreaded to venture out in fear of the lurking virus, which translated into shopping for Christmas and the forthcoming New Year taking a back seat, they said.

If there was any shopping to do at all, mostly to give gifts to near and dear ones in this season of good cheer, only one member of a family would opt to do a hasty run to pick up what they considered could not be done without, they noted.

Gone were the days when whole families went on a shopping spree to buy gifts for their friends and relatives. With the health authorities cautioning the public to observe social distancing and avoid crowded places in keeping with Covid-19 preventive measures, many people preferred to give shopping a miss in the backdrop of the raging virus, particularly in the volatile Western province, industry officials said.

Clothing stores, supermarkets and shops selling gift items were among businesses badly hit by the pandemic, with families reluctant to celebrate with friends and relatives or make a beeline to their home towns over the Christmas and New Year holidays in fear of the virulent infection, which has killed 185 persons in Sri Lanka by Thursday, they explained.

The continuing lockdown in many densely populated areas of the Western province also contributed to the slide in business all around as thousands of people remained confined to their homes under a distressing scenario, the officials said.

Supermarket officials said customers visiting their outlets have dipped significantly as many people don’t want to risk the possibility of being caught at the “wrong place at the wrong time”.

A customer who visited a supermarket on Christmas eve said there were just a handful of people around with most of them purchasing food items, more so in fear of a sudden lockdown than to celebrate the festive season.

“There were enough and more cakes and sweets available on the shelves, which was rather unusual at Christmas time”, he said, and added that there was more interest in buying bread and buns than goodies for Yuletide.

This shows that people live in constant fear of a lockdown anywhere at any time, he added.

With customers to supermarkets and other business establishments asked to write their contact details in a book maintained for the specific purpose under health regulations, there’s fear amongst visitors that in the event of finding an infected person within the premises, all others would be placed under mandatory quarantine, industry players said.

Who will feed their families if that happens?, was the questioned asked. Some were also of the view that they could even lose their jobs under such circumstances, they added.

Another critical factor is that the pandemic has ripped apart personal incomes with hardly anything left in hand to survive, let alone enjoy Christmas or the impending dawn of a new year, they stressed.

Meanwhile, Army Commander, Shavendra Silva said that inter-provincial travel has not been banned during the festive season but it’s left to the people to take necessary precautions.

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Covid-19 vaccination programme: MPs not in priority group; President, armed forces chiefs in ‘third category’ 



By Shamindra Ferdinando

State Minister for Primary Health Care, Epidemics and COVID Disease Control, Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle yesterday (25) said that members of Parliament were not among those categorised as priority groups expected to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr. Fernandopulle said so in response to The Island query whether parliamentarians would receive the vaccine scheduled to be delivered by India this week. Asked to explain, Dr. Fernandopulle said that health workers, armed forces and law enforcement personnel engaged in Covid-19 prevention operations would be given priority.

“Lawmakers haven’t been listed under priority groups. However, some members may get the vaccine if they are accommodated in the over 60 years category and those suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer et al,” the State minister said.

In addition to State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, several lawmakers, representing both the government and the Opposition had been afflicted over the past several weeks. SLPP lawmaker Wasantha Yapa Bandara (Kandy district) is the latest victim. Health minister Pavitradevi Wanniarachchi was among over half a dozen lawmakers tested positive.

Army Commander General Shavendra Silva told Derana yesterday morning Sri Lanka would receive approximately 500,000 to 600,000 doses from India. Responding to a spate of questions from Derana anchor Sanka Amarjith, Gen. Silva explained the measures taken by the government to ensure a smooth vaccination programme. The Army Chief who also functions as the Chief of Defence Staff revealed India had paid for the consignment obtained from the UK.

Later in the day, The Island sought an explanation from the Army Chief regarding the President, Service Commanders, Secretary Defence given the vaccination along with frontline health workers et al, the celebrated battlefield commander said: “Will be in third priority group.”

Asked whether the student population would be accommodated at an early stage of the vaccination programme, Dr. Fernandopulle said that those under 18 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers wouldn’t be included at all as such groups hadn’t been subjected to trials. Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera wasn’t available for comment.

Dr. Fernandopulle emphasized the pivotal importance of following health guidelines strictly in spite of the launch of the vaccination programme. “We shouldn’t lower our guard under any circumstances,” Dr. Fernandopulle said, urging the population to be mindful of those unable to receive the vaccination due to no fault of theirs. As those under 18 years of age had been left out of the vaccination programme, a substantial section of the population would be denied the protection, the State Minister said.

Sri Lanka is also expected to procure vaccines from China and Russia in addition to the doses from India. Health Secretary Maj. Gen. Sanjeewa Munasinghe wasn’t available for comment.

Sri Lanka launches the vaccination programme with the total number of positive cases nearing 60,000 with nearly 50,000 recoveries. The government recently re-opened the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) following a pilot programme that brought over 1,200 Ukrainians in dozen flights through the Mattala International Airport.

Dr. Fernandopulle said that the government was ready to launch the vaccination programme as soon as the first consignment arrived from India.

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Tennis balls filled with drugs thrown into Kandakadu Covid-19 treatment centre



By Norman Palihawadane

Two tennis balls filled with drugs had been thrown into the Covid-19 treatment centre at Kandakadu, Police Spokesperson DIG Ajith Rohana said.

The contraband was found on Saturday by the Army officers attached to the facility.

DIG Rohana said the two tennis balls containing cannabis, heroin and tobacco, had been handed over to the Welikanda Police.

A special investigation has been launched into the incident, the Police Spokesperson said. Such incidents had been previously reported from Welikada, Negombo and other prisons, but it was the first time contraband containing narcotics had been thrown into a Covid-19 treatment centre, he added.

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All cargo clearances at Colombo port now through electronic payments




The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) has introduced a system where payment for imports could be made via the Internet. This allows port users to make payments from their homes or offices to clear goods from the Port of Colombo.

The SLPA has said in a media statement that the new special facility will enable port users to make their port payments easily without hassle.

At present, all terminals of the Port of Colombo are run according to a strategic crisis management plan.


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