A vital component of the Pettah, Colombo’s sprawling market district, naattamis are Sri Lanka’s urban version of the dockyard stevedore, unloading and carrying everything from sacks of rice and potatoes to bales of onions and leeks from the lorries that bring them into the city each morning from every corner of the country. Daily wage earners, like the millions who make up Sri Lanka’s casual labour force, they have not been able to earn a living since Sri Lanka imposed a round-the-clock lockdown on march 20th, almost four weeks ago. The government’s most visible measure against the coronavirus, the lockdown, one of the harshest in the world, has closed supermarkets, grocery stores, and pharmacies, and restricted the population to its homes under pain of arrest. While Sri Lanka remains relatively unscathed by COVID-19, with 238 recorded cases in a population of 21 million, and just seven deaths, the lockdown has brought manufacturing, imports and exports, hospitality, and other major industries to a complete standstill, threatening millions more jobs. The rupee has dropped to its lowest value in history. Still recovering from the economic effects of the Easter Bombings of April 2019, Sri Lanka is faced with an uncertain future.
Colombo, Sri Lanka. 16th April 2020: day 27 of the lockdown.
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