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COVID-19-hit Sri Lanka to usher in low-key traditional new year

ECONOMYNEXT – As Sri Lanka gets ready to usher in the traditional Sinhala & Tamil new year, the mood appears sombre and the celebrations largely muted, a phenomenon not seen in the island nation in decades.

With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases passing the 200 mark over the weekend amid a seemingly endless lockdown, health officials and others have advised the public to keep the celebrations low-key and confined to their homes.

In a video released online, the World Health Organisation (WHO) called for a minimalist new year with an emphasis on simplicity. Instead of going to the temple, the WHO said, it would be advisable to observe the new year rituals at home with the family.

The traditional new year is an annual celebration of an astrological event that sees the transition of the sun from the house of Pisces to the house of Aries. This year’s transition is expected to take place at 8.23 pm today.

In its communication, the WHO made it a point to emphasise cleanliness. When observing the traditional ‘ganudenu’ ritual where family members exchange cash, the narrator of the video – folk singer Sahan Ranwala – said care must be taken to wash hands after.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a tweet this morning highlighted the importance of staying at home amid the public health crisis.

https://twitter.com/GotabayaR/status/1249503076874170369

In a separate new year message, Rajapaksa said Sri Lanka is facing the “most devastating situation since the era of our ancestors.”

“Hence, this time we are not able to celebrate festivals collectively as the health specialists have emphasised the importance of maintaining social distance. I appeal to all of you who voluntarily rallied around to conquer any challenge faced by our country and nation, to commit yourselves now as well, to prevent the spread of this deadly virus by maintaining the social distance during this festival time,” he said.

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Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his new year message reminded the public that this new year has to be spent “as per the strict health directives which have been formulated to safeguard the health of our people and nation.”

“The Sinhala and Tamil new year marks the unity and co-existence between the different races in our country. At such a moment, we get a chance to display our national integrity. This year, while remaining in our homes we can also sustain and strengthen our age-old customs and traditions through simple celebrations carried out with equanimity. Such celebrations no doubt will bring joy and contentment, that has been a cornerstone in our nation’s sustenance as reflected in our rich history,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Samastha Lanka Sashanarakshana Mandalaya in a statement released yesterday called on the Buddhist clergy to carry out religious observances in their respective temples. Buddhist priests have been advised to ring the temple bells at 7.25pm and recite the five Buddhist presets at 7.30pm, after which a number of Buddhist suttas are to be recited as a means of blessing the nation. (Colombo/Apr13/2020)

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