Drive starts a day after arrival of a consignment of 5 lakh doses gifted by India

Sri Lanka on Friday commenced its COVID-19 vaccination drive, a day after receiving a consignment of 500,000 doses of Covishield vaccines gifted by India.

Three Army personnel and a senior doctor received the first jabs, marking the launch of the roll-out at six main hospitals in Sri Lanka’s Western Province. A total of 150,000 health workers and 120,000 members of the tri-forces, police and security forces, tasked with combating the coronavirus pandemic in the country, will be covered in the first round, the government has said.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who on Thursday received the vaccines at the Bandaranaike International Airport, thanked the people of India for their “generosity”.

The Covishield vaccines, made in India, are the first doses of vaccine to arrive in Sri Lanka. China will donate 3,00,000 vaccine doses by mid-February, the Chinese Embassy here said. Colombo is also in talks with Russia to procure more vaccines.

Speaking at the launch of Sri Lanka’s vaccine drive, Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay said international cooperation was key to fighting the pandemic. “We hope the vaccines will help open up the economy and also instil confidence in the minds of people,” he said.

The vaccination drive that began on Friday coincides with a surge in COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka. On Thursday, a total of 892 cases were reported. That is the highest number of daily cases so far. Sri Lanka has recorded 61,586 infections — about 6,854 active cases — and 297 fatalities as of Friday evening.

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