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Thursday December 8th, 2022

Sri Lanka Coronavirus cases go up, authorities try to keep people at home

TELEVISED MASS: Sri Lanka’s Catholic Cardinal holding a televised service from his official resident broadcast over live TV in Sri Lanka on March 15. He said the government had requested gatherings to be limited.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has seen a surge of new Coronavirus cases driven mostly by returnees from Italy, with one case confirmed who had not been quarantined, as authorities blocked new arrivals and tried multiple measures to make people stay at home.

Eight new case was confirmed on Sunday, taking the total to 19 with a Chinese national who had been discharged from hospital.

Travel restriction to the UK, Belgium and Norway was imposed late Sunday and quarantine would begin, authorities said.

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A holiday declared for Monday will not apply to the wholesale and retail trade or exports and imports, Information Minister Bandula Gunewardane said.

The threat to the country, like several other countries, has emerged not from Chinese tourists or guest workers but citizens who are returning from third countries that had become infected.

Monday, March 16, was declared a holiday in the latest in several moves to make people stay at home.

Sri Lanka banned public events, closed cinemas, zoological gardens until further notice Saturday and declared Monday a public holiday after earlier closing schools and universities as new cases surged into double digits in a bid to get the public to stay at home.

“This is for a two week period, and we ask the public to cooperate with us,” Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi told reporters in Colombo.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has asked officials to make use of the internet to provide services.

Italian Connection

Concerns heightened after a resident of Nathandiya, an area that had seen a concentration of migration into Italy who had not been caught in quarantine or self-quarantined and was confirmed with Coronavirus after having been on the move.

“Every person who came before quarantine should stay at home,” Director General of Health Services Anil Jasinghe said during a television broadcast Sunday.

He said lists of returnees were being made and they will be quarantined.

Sri Lanka’s military intelligenceand police are tracking people who had arrived in the country before quarantine began, Army Chief Shavendra Silva said.

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A returnee from Germany was also confirmed as having Coronavirus.

“This shows that that the biggest threat is coming from Italy and Schengen area,” Jasinghe told reporters Saturday.

Along the coastal belt north of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, from Chilaw running up to Marawila and beyond a large number of Sri Lankan had migrated to Italy, earning the label ‘Little Italy.’

A large concentration of Catholics also live in the area. No services will take place in Colombo and Chilaw dioceses until March 31, to help fight the Coronavirus, a Church official said.

The island’s Catholic Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith held a televised service on March 15.

“We are holding the service in this manner at the special request of the government to protect the worshippers and all Sri Lankans and support the fight against this disease,” Cardinal Ranjith said starting the Sunday mass.

Sri Lanka has so far not announced any lockdowns. Some countries like Italy have ordered vast areas into lockdown.

Spain on Saturday imposed a near-total nationwide lockdown, banning people from leaving home except to go to work, get medical care or buy food.

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But countries like Vietnam have ordered surgical lockdowns, closing down individual streets and apartments, aggressively tracing contacts through community leaders while keeping tens of thousands of returning citizens in quarantine.

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Sri Lanka diplomats in self-quarantine after family member gets Coronavirus

Sri Lanka Coronavirus toll goes to 11, public holiday declared – Updated

Sri Lanka has urged citizens not to travel abroad.

Sri Lanka had already banned arrivals from nine European countries, Italy and Korea or who had traveled there including citizens of Sri Lanka, for two weeks in a bid to squeeze the flow.

Sri Lankan missions in those countries said they were cutting down consular services to emergencies.

In Colombo, the Foreign Ministry ordered a group of officials into self-quarantine after a relative of a colleague, who had recently returned from abroad was confirmed with Coronavirus.

The public had also been urged not to panic buy.

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A 56-year-old lady who had returned from Italy on March 07, became the 10th Sri Lankan confirmed, the state information office said.

A 17-year old girl who was the relative of a previously confirmed case was the 09th Sri Lankan, confirmed, making it a case of community transmission.

As of Saturday 103 suspected patients were being treated at 18 designated hospitals around the country, while 1600 were in quarantine, Jasinghe said. (Colombo/Mar15/2020-sb – Updated with Sunday new patients)

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Sri Lanka in deep talent drain in latest currency crisis

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka businesses are facing a drain of talent, top business executives said as the country suffers the worst flexible exchange rate crisis in the history of its intermediate regime central bank and people lose hope.

“We are seeing a trend towards migrating,” Krishan Balendra, Chairman of Sri Lanka’s John Keells Holdings told an economic policy forum organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“We have seen an impact mainly on the tourist hotels side, quite an exodus of staff (migrating) to countries we have not seen in the past. 

“We have seen people go to Scotland, Ireland. It has usually been the Middle East and Maldives. Australia seems like a red hot labor market at the moment.”

Sri Lanka’s rupee collapsed from 200 to 360 to the US dollar after macro-economists printed money to suppress rates.

Sri Lanka operates a ‘flexible exchange rate’ where errors in targeting interest rates are compensated by currency depreciation especially after the 1980s.

Classical economists and analysts have called for the power to mis-target rates and operate dual anchor conflicting monetary regimes should be taken away to prevent future crisis.

Currency crises are problems associated with flexible exchange rate central banks which are absent in hard pegs and clean floats.

“Something new we are seeing is that older people, even those in their 50s, which was a surprise, are looking at migrating,” Balendra said.

Businesses are trying to retain talent as real wages collapse.

Balendra said as businesses they see some stability returning and based on past experience growth is likely to resume, and they were communicating with the workers.

“We have a degree of conviction that the economy should get better, its the stability phase now and it will get better going forward so without the way our businesses are placed we should see good growth,” Balendra said.

“We can’t chase compensation that’s just not practical and we are not trying to do that especially if people are looking to immigrate but what we can do is show the career opportunities in the backdrop of the situation that people would rather stay here because its home.” 

Sri Lanka unit of Heineken says it is also trying to convince workers not to leave, with more success.

“We are all facing the effects of brain drain and it’s not just the lower levels… What we are doing is a balance of daring and caring,” Maud Meijboom-van Wel – Managing Director / CEO, Heineken Lanka Ltd told the forum.

“Why I say daring is, you have to be clear in what you can promise people, when you make promises you have to walk the talk. So with the key talents and everyone you need to have the career and talent conversations.

“I am a bit lucky because I am running a multinational company so my career path goes beyond Sri Lanka so I can say if you acquire certain skills here, then you can move out of here and then come back too, that is a bit easier for me but it starts with having a real open conversation with walking the talk – dare and care.” (Colombo/Dec7/2022)

 

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Despite losses, Sri Lanka to resume “park & ride” transport after complaints  

ECONOMYNEXT –  Sri Lanka’s state-run Transport Board will resume its loss-making City Bus service from January 15, 2022 Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena said, after the service abruptly discontinued with the state-run firm’s director board citing losses.

The City Bus service was introduced in 2021, under the government of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, from Makubura to Pettah and Bambalapitiya.

The service was started to reduce the number of automobiles travelling to and from Colombo and suburbs by providing a comfortable, convenient and safe public bus transportation for passengers and riders who use cars and motorcycles as their means of transportation.

During the time period in which the service was initiated, there were 800 hundred vehicles that would be parked and would use the system, Gunawardena, who is also the Transport Minister, said.

The service was later collapsed due to inconsistencies in scheduling and it was completely stopped after

“Without informing the Secretary or the Minister of the relevant Ministry, the Board of Directors have come to a conclusion that this is loss making route and must be halted,” Gunawardena said.

“The users of the City Bus service brought to our notice and therefore I gave the Secretary to the Ministry of Transport the approval to start the City Bus service from January 15.”

“If we stop all loss making transport services then massive inconveniences will occur to the people in far parts of the island.”

The chairman of the state run Ceylon Transport Board has been asked to handover the resignation letter by the Minister Gunawardana citing that the head has failed to implement a policy decision approved by the government. (Colombo/ Dec 06/2022)

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Sri Lanka may see rates falling next year: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s interest rates are high and hurting small businesses in particular but interest rates are required to maintain stability, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“One is, all of you want to know what’s going to happen to the interest rates?,” President Wickremesinghe told an economic policy forum organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“I wish I know. The governor has told me that the inflation has peaked. It’s coming down. You all understandably want some relief with the interest rates to carry business on.”

“I understand that and appreciate the viewpoint. It’s not easy to carry business on with such high interest rates. On the other hand, the Central Bank also has to handle the economy. So maybe sometimes early next year we will have a meeting of minds of both these propositions.”

Sri Lanka’s interest rates are currently at around 30 percent but not because the central bank is keeping it up. The central bank’s overnight policy rate is only 15.5 percent but the requirement to finance the budget deficit and roll over debt is keeping rates up.

Rates are also high due to a flaw in the International Monetary Fund’s debt workout framework where there is no early clarity on a whether or not domestic debt will be re-structured.

After previous currency crises, rates come down after an IMF deal is approved and foreign loans resume and confidence in the currency is re-stabilished following a float.

This time however there has been no clear float, though the external sector is largely stable and foreign funding is delayed until a debt re-structure deal is made.

Sri Lanka’s external troubles usually come because the bureaucrats do not believe market rates are correct when credit demand picks up and mis-uses monetary tools given in 1950 by the parliament to suppress rates, blowing the balance of payments apart.

The result of suppressed rates by the central bank are steep spikes in rates to stop the resulting currency crisis.

A reserve collecting central bank has little or no leeway to control interest rates (monetary policy independence) without creating external troubles, which is generally expressed as the ‘impossible trinity of monetary policy objectives’.

However, it has not prevented officials from trying repeatedly to suppress rates, perhaps expecting different results.

After suppressed rates – supposedly to help businesses – trigger currency crises, the normalization combined with a currency collapse leads to impoverishment of the population.

The impoverishment through depreciation leads to a consumption shock, which also leads to revenue losses in businesses.

The suppressed rates then lead to bad loans.

In the 2020/2022 currency crisis the sovereign default has also led to more problems at banks. Several state enterprises also cannot pay back loans.

“…[T]he bad debt that is being carried by the banks is mainly from the private sector or the government sector,” President Wickremesinghe said.

“Keep the government sector aside. We’re dealing with it. How do you handle it? Look, one of our major areas of are the small and medium industries. You can’t allow them to collapse, but they’re in a bad way.”

Classical economists and analysts have called for new laws to block the ability to central bank to suppress rates in the first place so that currency crises and depreciation does not take place in the first place.

Then politicians like Wickremesinghe do not have to take drastic and unpopular measures to fix crises and there will be stability like in East Asia.

Sri Lanka had stability until 1950 when the central bank was created by abolishing an East Asia style currency board. The currency board kept the country relatively stable through two World Wars and a Great Depression.

In 1948 after the war (WWII) was over “we stood second to Japan” Wickremesinghe said.

“But we started destroying it from the sixties and the seventies,” he said. :We started rebuilding an economy, which was affected by a (civil) war, and thereafter the way we went, is best not described here.”

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