A tourist takes pictures with her mobile phone as she visits the Galle Fort in Galle on Nov 28, 2021. (ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP)
Sri Lanka enhanced its COVID-19 vaccination drive to prevent the rapid spread of the Omicron variant from derailing the country’s plans to revive its tourism sector.
Sri Lanka extended its vaccination campaign to include children aged 12 to 15, who will be given Pfizer shots, starting Jan 7, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said on Twitter.
Rambukwella had said that, starting this month, COVID-19 vaccination cards will be made mandatory to access public venues in the country.
Sri Lanka extended its vaccination campaign to include children aged 12 to 15, who will be given Pfizer shots, starting Jan 7, Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said on Twitter
The country's health ministry decided in December to require all people to have their vaccine cards on hand or show an electronic version of the certificate. Foreign tourists were also requested to carry an English translation of their vaccine cards for travel within the country.
Anwar Hamdani, the country's COVID-19 coordinator and director of technical services at Sri Lanka's Ministry of Health, was quoted in the local Daily Mirror as saying that the past couple of weeks had witnessed a gradual drop in the daily count of confirmed cases as well as in the number of related deaths.
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He said it was noteworthy that the Omicron transmission had been curtailed to a certain extent due to vaccination, but added that "an Omicron-fueled wave might emerge if people fail to receive booster doses on time and comply with health practices".
According to the Epidemiology Unit of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health, 623 new COVID-19 cases and 15 deaths were reported on Jan 11. The variant’s spread is likely to outpace Delta and other strains.
A total of 593,072 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the South Asia island nation since the beginning of the pandemic, with related deaths of 15,134 patients.
Everyone in the country aged 20 and up can get Pfizer booster jabs but, as of last week, only 25 percent of Sri Lanka's population had received booster shots.
The government decision to enhance its vaccination drive will help keep schools open and avoid any disruption, said Doctor Chandima Jeewandara, director of the Allergy, Immunology and Cell Biology Unit at Sri Jayewardenepura University, on a Twitter post with a picture of his son receiving his shot at school on Jan 7.
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"Our children and their education should be our priority," he said, urging others to get their booster shots amid the Omicron variant's spread.
Should Sri Lanka's COVID-19 situation worsen, it may adversely affect the recovery of the country's tourism industry, a vital sector in rebuilding the economy. The island nation is set to roll out major promotional campaigns targeting multiple countries, including China.
Sri Lanka was all set to declare 2022 as the "Visit Sri Lanka Year" in line with its integrated five-year Global Communication Campaign, according to media reports last month.
Tourists visit the Galle Fort in Galle on Nov 28, 2021. (ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP)
The plan involved attracting six million tourists by 2025 and generating $10 billion in revenue despite COVID-19 challenges.
"As per our pre-COVID plan, it is critical to embark on an effective and holistic destination marketing campaign. This targeted program will not be altered even amidst the pandemic challenges," Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga told the local press.
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Despite being hard hit by the pandemic over the past two years, Sri Lanka has been returning to normalcy while recording a rise in the number of tourists, particularly since November. In 2021, Sri Lanka logged a total of over 150,000 tourist arrivals.
The quick recovery of Sri Lanka's tourism sector has been attributed to the country's high vaccination rate, with China having played a major role in helping the country surmount difficulties in obtaining vaccines.
By the end of last year, nearly 70 percent of Sri Lanka's population had been fully vaccinated, particularly with China's Sinopharm jab – the leading vaccine administered – followed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Sputnik V vaccines.
Xinhua contributed to this report.