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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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President Ranil Wickremasinghe calls upon chief prelates of Asgiriya and Malwatta chapters




(pic courtsey Divaina)

President Ranil Wickremasinghe called upon the chief prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwatta chapters on Thursday (02) morning to seek their blessings ahead of the 75th Independence day celebrations.

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US secures deal on bases to complete arc around China




US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (R) was in the Philippines to finalise the deal (picture BBC)

BBC reported that the United States has secured access to four additional military bases in the Philippines – a key bit of real estate which would offer a front seat to monitor the Chinese in the South China Sea and around Taiwan.

With this deal, Washington has stitched the gap in the arc of US alliances stretching from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.

The missing link had been the Philippines, which borders two of the biggest potential flashpoints, Taiwan and the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea as Manila insists on calling it.

The US already had limited access to five sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) – the new additions and expanded access, according to a statement from Washington, will “allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges”, likely a veiled reference to countering China in the region.

The statement came after Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr in Manila on Thursday.

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Nuland accuses China of failing to help SL with ‘credible and specific assurances’ acceptable to IMF



Nuland addressing the media in Colombo (pic by Thushara Atapattu)

US hopes LG polls will be held in March

By Saman Indrajith

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, yesterday said China had not provided credible and specific assurances to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Sri Lanka to overcome the current economic crisis.

Addressing the media in Colombo, Nuland said: “What China has offered so far is not enough. We need to see credible and specific assurances that they will meet the IMF standard of debt relief. We, the United States, are prepared to do our part. Our Paris Club partners are prepared to do their part. India has made strong commitments that it will provide the credible assurances the IMF is looking for.”

Nuland said that India and the Paris Club had given strong assurances to the IMF to help Sri Lanka to obtain a $2.9 billion bailout.

“We want to see an IMF program as quickly as possible. That is what Sri Lanka deserves; that is what Sri Lanka needs,” Nuland said.

Nuland said the US would give Sri Lanka an additional USD 30 million to provide 96,000 schoolchildren with food.

She said Sri Lankans had taken to the streets, last year, demanding cleaner, accountable and inclusive governance, with transparency, and the government was expected to hold the elections to enable people to enjoy their democratic rights.

Nuland said that the US was glad to see that consultation between the government and other parties towards reconciliation had commenced. She said that she had met with members of the Tamil political parties, earlier yesterday. “We hope that the dialogue will continue to achieve real results such as return of the lands to their rightful owners.”

Nuland said that the US hoped that local elections would be held in March, the dialogue commenced for reconciliation would continue, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act would be reformed to meet international standards.

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