Can Coronavirus strain SL-China relations? - EDITORIAL

31 January 2020 01:23 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The tourism industry in Sri Lanka seems to be experiencing a never-ending bad period.

This is a nation where most television stations engage morning viewers with astrology programmes and most often than not so much negativities are inserted into their minds. We need to cultivate this habit of embracing optimism, but when one crisis follows another, the citizens of a nation like Sri Lanka could be left mentally shattered. 


The latest crisis involves a health issue; the Coronavirus. And more than the implications one has to suffer if infected from the virus, said to have originated in China, what really is affecting the Sri Lankans is the fear with which they live during this ‘health alert’. 


All the panic and concerns have driven the country’s tourism industry into reverse mode. The country’s authorities have canceled on arrival visas for Chinese tourists. This would sure affect the Sri Lanka’s tourism because China is Sri Lanka’s second largest tourist source market. 


The Coronavirus has a trickledown effect on the global tourism with many airlines in the process of canceling or reducing capacity of flights to and from mainland China. 


All the panic that has set in Sri Lanka was caused by the detection of a single Chinese tourist visiting the island tested positive for the Coronavirus. Colombo has announced that 10 others suspected of having the virus are being attended to. But the prevailing panic situation has sold out all face masks at pharmacies and made the country’s Premier to announce that people need not fear the virus. 


But fear of an epidemic has the potential to eat into tourism. We have heard of reports of the Beruwala Gem and Jewellery Traders Association closing down the Paththakade Gem Market indefinitely due to the threat from the Coronavirus; which the local authorities believe could affect tourists. Beruwala is a town infested with tourists and the closure of the market would spell doom for this industry. Big business deals in the gem industry take place in Beruwala and tourists who set foot here are said to have links with gem merchants in areas like Balangoda, Ratnapura, Eheliyagoda and Kuruwita. There are a huge number of Chinese nationals who do business at this market. 


Sri Lanka can’t strain its relationship with China during this hour. This is largely because of the growing relationship between the two nations which has created much trade and investment opportunities for both China and Sri Lanka. 


This is one reason why the Sri Lankan authorities haven’t pressed the panick button even if those involved in the island’s tourism industry are sceptical even when they hear the word ‘China’. 


Plans are afoot to check the Chinese workers employed at Sri Lankan work sites for the possibility of anyone carrying the virus. Chinese authorities have advised those wanting to return to Sri Lanka after the Chinese Lunar New Year to cancel their journeys or postpone the trip by 14 days if they are from Hubei Province; where the outbreak of the Coronavirus was most severe. 


The Chinese Government has already announced that the virus is under control back at home. China has also announced that several patients who were being treated for the virus were discharged after recovering. Colombo has played the same tune while addressing the issue and said that the presence of the virus hasn’t reached an epidemic level. The Government has said that no steps were taken to force people to wear face maks while out in the open. 


Naturally the Sri Lankan authorities would have damage control in mind. This is due to reports relating to locals disembarking from buses plying the expressway on seeing Chinese tourists inside such public vehicles.  
Sri Lanka is attempting to recover from a massive debt burden and China is one nation which is willing to offer credit lines and do business with them. This is a time when Sri Lanka has to stare at this much talked about virus in the face and fight it to save its tourism industry and close ties with China, Coronavirus or not ! 

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