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India to Give Priority to Sri Lanka While Supplying Covid-19 Vaccine to Other Nations

For representation: A medical worker shows a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Regional Military Specialty Hospital in San Nicolas de los Garza, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico December 29, 2020. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

For representation: A medical worker shows a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Regional Military Specialty Hospital in San Nicolas de los Garza, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico December 29, 2020. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

The Drug Controller General of India on Sunday approved the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute and indigenously developed Covaxin of Bharat Biotech, for restricted emergency use in the country, paving the way for a massive inoculation drive.

India has agreed to give priority to Sri Lanka when supplying its COVID-19 vaccine to other countries, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday told Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, according to an official statement issued here. The Drug Controller General of India on Sunday approved the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, manufactured by the Serum Institute and indigenously developed Covaxin of Bharat Biotech, for restricted emergency use in the country, paving the way for a massive inoculation drive.

The president told the Indian minister that Sri Lanka wishes to obtain the Indian vaccine, Rajapaksa's office said in a statement. According to the statement, Jaishankar told President Rajapaksa that India has agreed to give priority to Sri Lanka when supplying the Indian vaccine to other countries.

The two countries discussed further areas of cooperation, including the Colombo port's eastern container terminal, it said. The port's proposed deal with India has created a political controversy in the recent weeks as trade unions of Rajapaksa's own party stand vehemently opposed to the deal.

On Wednesday, Prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Parliament officially denied any formal deal with India or any other country on the Colombo port while responding to an Opposition query. Other ongoing Indian projects in Sri Lanka were also discussed during the meeting between the President and the visiting External Affairs Minister.

The President also discussed with Jaishankar ways to revive tourism as the two countries have decided to hold joint discussions with India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Maldives on reviving tourism which was hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Jaishankar is on a three-day visit here from December 5 to 7 at the invitation of his Sri Lankan counterpart Gunawardena. This is the first visit by a foreign dignitary to Sri Lanka in the new year.

A group of Ukrainian tourists became the first batch of holidayers to visit Sri Lanka last month in more than eight months after the island nation put curbs on international travel due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Sri Lanka's two international airports were closed in mid-March last year, as the country went into a lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The lockdown was gradually lifted by mid-May. Initial plans were to open international flight by the end of August but the COVID-19 cases abroad rose and the plans were stalled.

The country was hit by a coronavirus second wave in October. Earlier last month, Sri Lankan authorities said they would resume international flight operations from December 26. However, the latest date for re-opening international travel was also deferred.

The Sri Lankan government has incentivised air travel in the months following the COVID-19-induced air travel break, offering zero parking fee and landing costs for international operators. Sri Lanka had seen a major surge in COVID-19 infections since early October. The number of deaths which stood at just 13 by October have now passed the 200 mark.

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