Sri Lanka on Friday began to inoculate front-line health workers, troops and police officers against COVID-19 after India sent half a million free doses of vaccine as part of diplomatic efforts by New Delhi to deepen ties with its neighbours.
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine, branded as Covishield and manufactured by Serum Institute of India, from the Indian ambassador Gopal Baglay at a ceremony at Colombo airport, Gotabaya’s office said in a statement on Thursday.
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India, which is battling the world’s second-highest coronavirus caseload, has given away free vaccines to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Mauritius, and will also give some to Afghanistan once local approvals are secured.
China, which has invested millions of dollars in ports and highways in Sri Lanka as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, has also promised to deliver 300,000 vials of vaccine, Lalith Weeratunga, principal adviser to the president, said.
The Sri Lankan government says 150,000 front-line health workers and 115,000 selected military and police will be the first recipients amid warnings about infections among medical workers.
The Indian Ocean island nation’s regulatory body approved the vaccine last week as doctors were warning that front-line health workers should be quickly inoculated to prevent the medical system from collapsing due to infections among medical staff.
The vaccination takes place at six state-run hospitals in the capital Colombo and suburbs and two hospitals run by the army for four days.
The health ministry said it will expand to other parts of the country by next week. The ministry has planned up to 4,000 vaccination centres countrywide.
Most of Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 cases and deaths have occurred since October when clusters centred on a garment factory and a fish market emerged in the capital Colombo and its suburbs.
The island nation of 22 million people has reported 61,585 COVID-19 cases with 297 deaths since March and adds 300 to 900 new cases every day.