Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) belatedly, but, nonetheless in a welcome move, has reopened Sri Lanka’s borders for British tourists as well. (Lead story of yesterday’s ‘Ceylon Today’).
Previously, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka closed all of its borders to tourists on 17 March, 2020 (last year). Subsequently Sri Lanka reopened its borders on 28 December, 2020, but banned UK tourists from entering the country due to an allegedly ‘more deadly’ COVID-19 virus emanating from the UK.
A few days prior to the reopening of its borders, Sri Lanka banned flights from the UK from 23 December, 2020 because of this new ‘UK’ COVID-19 virus variant. (‘Ceylon Today’ of 22 December, 2020)This ban was also applicable to foreign tourists who had visited the UK and who planned to disembark in Sri Lanka within 14 days after returning from the UK. But despite this travel ban from the UK, the UK variant of COVID-19 virus was‘first’, discovered in ‘one’ individual. (‘Ceylon Today’ of 13 January 2021)
Subsequently, more were found to be infected with the ‘UK’ COVID-19 virus. In this connection, ‘Ceylon Today’ on 13 February 2021 reported, ‘…Fast spreading B.1.1.7 (UK lineage) variant of the novel coronavirus has been detected in Colombo, Avissawella, Biyagama and Vavuniya.
From laboratory sequencing carried out on 92 COVID-19 samples received from 1 January 2021 to 1 February 2021, some samples including those from Colombo had shown lineage to the SARS CoV2 variant found in the United Kingdom (UK), Head of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Dr. Chandima Jeewandara said…’ The fact that this ‘UK’ COVID-19 virus ‘invaded’ Sri Lanka despite travel bans from the UK and other precautionary measures taken by the authorities, showed that due to reasons, perhaps, best known to them, that such bans and other precautionary measures taken, were impotent to halt the ‘UK’ COVID-19 virus from entering the island. Realising the irrationality of ‘closing the stable door after the horse has bolted,’ the authorities in hindsight have taken the wise decision of allowing UK tourists too to enter Sri Lanka.
From an economic perspective that move makes good economic sense.
UK, which was Sri Lanka’s second largest tourist market after India, before being unseated by China in recent times, was yet Sri Lanka’s third largest tourism market even after the advent of the Chinese, before Sri Lanka and the rest of the world was ‘invaded’ by COVID-19, disrupting virtually all economic sectors, not least tourism, last year.
Tourism, after remittances and garments, in that descending order, in recent times, has been Sri Lanka’s third largest foreign exchange earner.
Meanwhile, despite the UK being the island’s third largest tourism market, going by per capita income, it may be assumed, by a rule of thumb, that the UK tourist was a much bigger spender than either the Indian or the Chinese tourist.
For example, the per capita GDP of India, China and the UK were US$ 2,099.60; $10,261.88 and $42,330, respectively, translating to the fact that the UK’s per capita GDP is more than 20 and four times larger than that of India’s and China’s, respectively.
Therefore, it may be assumed that the UK tourist spends more than 20 times than an Indian tourist and more than four times than a Chinese tourist visiting Sri Lanka. From an economic perspective, that means that one UK tourist is equivalent to 20 Indian tourists and four Chinese tourists visiting the island.
Due to leaks or otherwise, bans are not the way to keep the COVID-19 Virus and its variant/s away from Sri Lanka, as the above examples have shown.
Lock downs, shut downs and closing borders only make the people suffer. This is complemented by the fact that the economy grew by a negative 1.6 per cent in first quarter (1Q) 2020, a negative 16.3 per cent in 2Q 2020 and by a parsimonious (positive) 1.5% in 3Q 2020, respectively, according to latest data.
Despite restrictions to keep the COVID-19 Virus at bay, the virus, in all of its fury, hit the island in October 2020 in its so called second wave, with the authorities seemingly still being unable to fight it even after the lapse of more than four-and-a-half-months to date, with both infected and dying, daily rising, unabated, with no reductions in sight. However, there is hope to contain this virus, with vaccines having had been found in a handful of countries, not least the above mentioned India, China and the UK, with the USA also added on to the list.
Sri Lanka recently got 500,000 vaccine shots free of charge from India and in the backdrop that an individual has to be twice inoculated in the space of four weeks to jeep the virus at bay for a year, on a population of 22 million; that means 44 million jabs.
With 500,000 jabs already given free that means another 43.50 million jabs at an investment cost of Rs 24.66 billion, given the fact that Indian jab is seemingly the cheapest at Rs 567 a vaccine, are needed to keep Sri Lanka COVID-19 free for a year as a seeming first step to eliminate it once and for all from the country.
The ball is now in GoSL’s court.