Retailers hit by scaled-down celebrations | Sunday Observer

Retailers hit by scaled-down celebrations

20 December, 2020

The ongoing coronavirus crisis is posing many challenges to economically hit retailers who rely on last minute festive season sales with shoppers resorting to having low-key celebrations to cut down expenses.

Health authorities and religious leaders also urged the public to minimise gathering in large crowds to keep the raging virus at bay. The number of coronavirus infection cases exceeded 35,000.

Army Commander Shavendra Silva said random Rapid Antigen Tests will be conducted from Friday (18) on those crossing Western Province borders. The tests will be done at Nittambuwa on the Kandy-Colombo Road, in Salawa and Kosgama on the Avissawella-Colombo Road and in Katunayake along the Colombo-Chilaw Road. In a letter addressed to the Provincial Director of Health Services in the Western Province, Deputy Director General of the Health Ministry Dr. G. Sudath K. Dharmaratne said the decision was made to prevent the spread of the disease to other regions.

“We will make the best of what we have,” Ameli Fernando from Boralesgamuwa said. The newly married teacher will be celebrating her first Christmas with her husband this month. Fernando is planning to visit her parents and spend Christmas with them. “We usually have relatives coming over too, but not this time. Most of my relatives are old and we don’t want them to fall sick,” she said. For Suranthi Perera, a home-maker from Maratuwa, the Christmas mood dawns with her children’s school carols. This is usually on the first week of December. “That is when we get the real Christmas feeling. With that we start to clean our houses and plan the Christmas day lunch,” she said. This year the school cancelled the carol service due to health risks of people gathering in large numbers. By Friday (18), Perera still hasn’t planned her Christmas.

“We are considering to set up a small crib, make Christmas cake for the family and help families who are in need,” she said.This resonates with the special request by Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith who said Christmas should be celebrated by helping the poor who are affected by the pandemic. He said people should “Concentrate on a spiritual celebration of Christmas and encourage everyone to share the joy of Christmas with those brothers and sisters who have been deprived of joy and happiness due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” Church gatherings will also be restricted to half its capacity, while some priests have already informed devotees that the Holy Mass will be telecast live or shared on social media.

However, retailers are expecting more people to do their last-minute shopping. There has been a spike in sales in certain shops despite the scaled down celebration this year. P. Withanage, an ornament shop owner in Maharagama said Christmas ornaments are purchased especially by those who have children. He said it is still too early to assess the sales as most consumers start shopping a couple of days before Christmas.

Major clothes retailers are also seeing more buyers than they did during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year when strict restrictions were imposed in the light of Covid-19 outbreak. Smaller retailers, however, doubt sales would bloom.

“Most people go to much larger shops with enough space to maintain social distance. When they see crowds in shops they tend to avoid. Everyone is scared. We are hoping for the best,” a clothes retailer in Boralesgamuwa said.

The Government also introduced a special loan scheme for daily wage earners, state and private sector employees enable them to purchase stuff for Christmas and the new year. According to the President’s Media Division (PMD), under the new loan scheme, those with a monthly salary/income of above Rs. 50,000 are entitled to a loan of Rs. 50,000 while those who earn a monthly salary/income between Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 50,000 could request for a loan of Rs. 25,000. Those who earn a salary/income of Rs. 25,000 are qualified to apply for a loan of Rs. 10,000. The loans can be obtained from the Bank of Ceylon, People’s Bank, National Savings Bank, Regional Development Bank and Samurdhi Bank. The provision of loans to state pensioners and Samurdhi beneficiaries is vested with the Department of Pensions and the Samurdhi Bank.

“The loan should be repaid within 10 months. The interest rate is 0.625. Loans will be recovered from employees on a monthly installment basis from January to October 2021,” PMD sources added.

People running three-wheelers, school vans, buses and those employed at private bus services can apply for the concessionary loan by presenting their National Identity Card to the State Bank where their bank account is maintained, the statement adding those who don’t belong to this category and yet if they earn daily wages and maintain an account at a State Bank are entitled to the festive loan facility.