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Friday December 9th, 2022

Sri Lanka plans price controls on face masks as virus fears drive demand

PROTECTION: A rider wearing a mask waits at a motorcycle park in Colombo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s drug regulatory agency will put price controls on face masks, a top official said as pharmacies ran out of supplies after a tourist from China tested positive for a deadly corona virus.

Some pharmacies had completely run out of stocks, and surgical masks were being sold at over 10 to 20 times the normal price, some customers complained.

“Very soon we will be issuing a gazette (with price ceilings) because the price has been jacked up,” Director General of the National Medical Regulatory Authority, Kamal Jayasinghe said.

Many pharmacies, however, were selling one or two masks per customer in a bid to make existing supplies last.

Some were selling five per customer.

Jayasinghe said the NMRA had requested pharmacies to sell a maximum of five masks per customer.

In a functioning market, a sudden demand will push prices up temporarily, giving more profits and new suppliers will enter the market, sometimes dropping their normal business, and prices will drop back.

The higher profits will allow importers to buy from more expensive markets like Eastern Europe and the West and sell higher priced masks to those who are willing to pay.

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said domestic manufactures were also bringing raw material from China, where there was also a big demand.

She said the NMRA required pre-registration of suppliers who wanted to import masks and the legal requirements were delaying fresh imports.

But Government spokesman Minister Mahindanda Aluthgamage said the Ministry of Health had set up a special unit to speed up approvals.

A senior official of top private pharmaceuticals group said they could only supply 35 percent of the demand, but we’re trying to get more. But the group’s suppliers were also facing higher levels of orders.

“There is a huge shortage of surgical masks,” he said. “Yesterday we could only supply 35 percent of the demand, so there a 75 percent shortage.

“There is also a price increase and we believe the suppliers have to ad hoc. All of us are scrambling to find supply.”

Another pharmaceuticals chain said there was a sudden surge in demand therefore they were looking for more supplies. (Colombo/Jan29/2020)

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Foreign minister, US ambassador discuss future assistance to crisis-hit Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT — In a meeting in Colombo, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry and US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung discussed ways in which the United States can continue to support Sri Lanka going forward, the Ambassador said.

Chung tweeted Friday December 09 afternoon that the two officials had reflected on the “twists and turns” of 2022, at the meeting.

Minister Sabry was recently in Washington D.C. where he US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A foreign ministry statement said the two officials held productive discussions at the Department of State on December 02 on further elevating bilateral relations in diverse spheres, including the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations which will be marked in 2023.

Incidentally, Sri Lanka also celebrates the 75th anniversary of its independence from the British in 2023, and President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given himself and all parties that represent parliament a deadline to find a permanent solution to Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic issue.

The US has been vocal about Sri Lanka addressing concerns about its human rights record since the end of the civil war in 2009 and was a sponsor of the latest resolution on Sri Lanka passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Unlike previous resolutions, this year’s iteration makes specific reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis and calls for investigations on corruption allegations.

In the lead up to the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, Minister Sabry Sri Lanka’s government under then new president Wickremesinghe does not want any confrontation with any international partner but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.

On the eve of the sessions on October 06, Sabry said countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who led the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

These pronouncements notwithstanding, the Wickremesnghe government has been making inroads to the West as well as India and Japan, eager to obtain their assistance in seeing Sri Lanka through the ongoing crisis.

The island nation has entered into a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for an extended fund facility of 2.9 billion dollars to be disbursed over a period of four years, subject to a successful debt restructure programme and structural reforms.

Much depends on whether or not China agrees to restructure Sri Lanka’s 7.4 billion dollar outstanding debt to the emerging superpower. Beijing’s apparent hesitance to go for a swift restructure prompted Tamil National Alliance MP Shanakiyan Rasamanickam to warn of possible “go home, China” protests in Colombo, similar to the wave of protests that forced the exit of former pro-China President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The TNA will be a key player in upcoming talks with the Wickremesinghe government on a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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India smogs out Sri Lanka’s China tower observers

 

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Chinese-built Lotus Tower has halved visitors to its observation deck an official said as dirty air flowing from India triggered air quality warnings and schools in the capital closed.

“Masks are mandatory at the observation deck and roughly around 50 to 60 can go up to the observation deck at a time, time limits have not been altered and still persists at 20 minutes for observation,” the official told EconomyNext.

Prior to the smog, 120 observers were permitted at once to the deck.

However, even after limitations the Lotus Tower has continued to draw visitors, and revenues are coming in, the official said.

The tower built with a Chinese loan by the cash rich Telecom Regulatory Commission has been described by critics as a white elephant that eats the money earned from telecom operators mainly as spectrum fees.

Sri Lanka’s National Building Research Organization (NBRO) said India air heavily polluted with particulate matter was flowing across the island into a depression in the South West Bengal Bay. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

 

 

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Mystery mattress sparks innuendo-filled row in Sri Lanka parliament

File photo of a mattress

ECONOMYNEXT — A mysterious luxury mattress said to have been paid for by a private company has found its way to the president’s office in the parliament complex, an opposition MP claimed, leading to an innuendo-filled exchange of words between the MP and the chief government whip.

Main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Buddhika Pathirana told parliament on Friday December 09 that on July 28, a week after President Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in, some “items” had been transported to the parliament complex.

“None of these items were purchased by parliament. A private company had paid for them,” said Pathirana, announcing his intention to table all receipts.

According to the MP, the items had been moved to the space allocated for the president’s office inside the parliament building. Among these items had been a luxury mattress that the Matara district MP claimed was one foot thick.

“Why has a mattress like that been brought here, and why is it in the president’s office? As far as I know, nobody sleeps in that room. This raises a serious question as to whether someone goes to bed in that room,” he said.

“Either the president has to sleep in it or it’s his staff,” he added.

Pathirana urged Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena to appoint a committee of MPs to investigate the matter, and the MP volunteered to inspect the bed himself.”

“We’ll also go and take a look. That’ll be good for president’s security and for that of this House. Can things paid for by a private company be brought in here?”

MP Pathirana claimed that though it was said that President Wickremesinghe had covered all expenses of his swearing in ceremony with his private funds, the company that paid for the mysterious mattress had in fact made the payments.

Pathirana’s SJB colleague Hesha Withanage who came to the MP’s defence amid howls of laughter from the government benches said it was a serious matter, urging the lawmakers not to make light of it. Withanage claimed that he had in his possession a letter directing an unnamed authority to provide the company in question 20 acres of land in Hambegamuwa, Hambantota.

He did not elaborate.

Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga, meanwhile, told Pathirana and the SJB that the Speaker had said he would look into the matter.

“The speaker has said he will look into it. You’re not going to sleep in that bed, are you? I don’t know if you do and if that is why you’re so interested.

“There are much more important things to discuss. Talk about problems of the country without talking about about beds,” he said. (Colombo/Dec09/2022)

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