The trio was at the gate having a ‘go’ at Aldoris, the choon-paan karaya, and pulling his leg. “Aney miss, kaeme tikak ganna-ko (Miss, please buy some food),” he pleaded. “Issaravela oya kiyanna-ko corona virusaya gena monavada danne kiyala (First tell us what you know about the coronavirus),” cajoled Serapina, the youngest of the trio. [...]

Business Times

Beating a deadly virus


The trio was at the gate having a ‘go’ at Aldoris, the choon-paan karaya, and pulling his leg.

Aney miss, kaeme tikak ganna-ko (Miss, please buy some food),” he pleaded. “Issaravela oya kiyanna-ko corona virusaya gena monavada danne kiyala (First tell us what you know about the coronavirus),” cajoled Serapina, the youngest of the trio.

Aney miss, mama kisi deyak danne neha. Magey wede maalu paan ha banis viku-nana eka (I don’t know, my job is to sell maalu paan and buns),” he said.

The trio then purchased three maalu paans and moved to the margosa tree. Sitting comfortably, Kussi Amma Sera said: “Mema vairasaya ekalasayak wunuth hondai (I hope this virus will settle down).”

Eh wage thamai, mokada Lankawe hitiye eka ledek-ne (It looks as if it would, since we have only one confirmed case in Sri Lanka),” noted Mabel Rasthiyadu.

I had finished breakfast in the kitchen (where I occasionally eat) and moved to the office room, while hearing snatches of the conversation from the trio, when the phone rang.

I picked up my mug of tea and settling in the office room, picked up the phone. It was ‘Koththamalli’ Fernando, the Kokatath Thailaya (oil for any ailments) expert who has a remedy for any issue, also wanting to discuss the coronavirus. I assumed he wanted to say that herbal medicine can find a cure for the virus.

“This coronavirus is increasing though in Sri Lanka we have been able to contain it with just one case,” he said. “That’s correct. To some extent our authorities have been able to spread the message on how to avoid catching the infection,” I said, asking: “Do you think our vedamahattayas will be able to find a cure for this?”

“I am not very sure,” he said, one of the few occasions where he didn’t have a remedy or profess to have one for an ailment. “We need to look at first whether western medicine research has found a cure,” he added.

While conversing with him, my mind slipped back to the various developments this week pertaining to the coronavirus, its impact on Sri Lankans and the business and economic impact.

An opinion poll by the Business Times (see Page 1) showed that while most people felt the health authorities were adequately dealing with the situation, they were not convinced that there was sufficient awareness about how to stay safe and not get infected. To another question whether there are adequate precautions at the air and sea ports, the response was mixed with only 32 per cent saying there were adequate measures taken.

On the business impact, a Ceylon Chamber of Commerce poll on the issue found that the coronavirus outbreak is likely to have a greater global impact than the SARS outbreak in 2002-03

In the chamber poll, nearly 50 per cent said businesses have been affected. On the tourism front, the regular inflow of 25,000-30,000 Chinese tourists per month has reduced to a trickle affecting hotels in Sri Lanka. China is Sri Lanka’s third largest source market.

Being one of the key suppliers of accessories to the garments industry, the local apparel sector was also struggling to find alternative sources, as supply from China had been affected. Furthermore, online sales had been affected for computer parts and other electronic equipment as China is one of the biggest suppliers to online retail platforms.

Globally, travel is taking a beating with airlines in the Asia Pacific region either cutting down flights or considering this measure due to the sharp fall in overseas travel by the Chinese and also visitors into China.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Thursday announced that its initial assessment of the impact of the coronavirus 2019 outbreak shows a potential 13 per cent full-year loss of passenger demand for carriers in the Asia-Pacific region.

It said the net impact will be an 8.2 per cent full-year contraction compared to 2019 demand levels. “In this scenario, that would translate into a US$27.8 billion revenue loss in 2020 for carriers in the Asia-Pacific region – the bulk of which would be borne by carriers registered in China, with $12.8 billion lost in the China domestic market alone,” the organisation said.

Back to the conversation with ‘Koththamalli’, I told him that one of the respondents in the Business Times poll had said that while a lot of attention has been paid to the coronavirus, there are other ailments like dengue which have taken lives and made people ill, which have not got the attention they deserve.

“The problem is that in the case of the coronavirus, we are dealing with a virus that crosses borders and has bigger implications for Sri Lanka than any other disease,” he said. “You may be right,” I replied.

For Sri Lanka, the biggest blow was to tourism which had just been recovering from the devastating effects of the Easter Sunday bombings in April last year. “Tourism was gradually recovering and hotels were preparing for a better summer, when it was hit again by the coronavirus,” I said.

Cruise tourism has also been badly dented. Many ships call over at the Colombo port where passengers generally have a day’s city tour of Colombo.

Thousands have been quarantined off the coast of Japan on board the Diamond Princess, after the virus was detected in someone who’d disembarked. Passengers have not been allowed to leave the ship, with over 600 people – passengers and crew – ill, while two passengers have died. In Singapore, some cruise operators have suspended cruises and offering to postpone bookings or refund the entire fee paid by passengers.

Concluding the conversation with ‘Koththamalli’, I look at my mug and find I have drunk all the tea, wishing for more. As if reading my thoughts, Kussi Amma Sera walks in with another mug of tea, saying: “Corona virus gataluva ikmanin visadai kiyala mama balaporottu venawa (I hope the coronavirus problem will be solved soon).” Taking a sip of tea, I nodded my head, reflecting on how Sri Lanka’s economic future revolves around global trade and global implications now affected by the twin impacts on tourism from the Easter Sunday bombings and the coronavirus.

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