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Monday April 22nd, 2024

Sri Lanka’s govt medical officers seek clarification on IHME projections: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has written to the Washington-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) seeking clarification on its alarming projections for Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 deaths, a top minister said.

The GMOA has questioned the basis on which the IHME had arrived at its “speculation”, co-cabinet spokesman Minister Udaya Gammanpila said this morning (11).

IHME, an idependent global health research centre at the University of Washington, had predicted that total COVID-19 deaths in Sri Lanka could reach 20,876 by September 1 this year. The institute gave separate projections adjusted for mask compliance and physical distancing, though no adjustments seemed to have been made for contact tracing, isolation and institutional treatment.

In a worst case scenario, IHME projections showed, fatalities could increase up to 30,132 by September if the current positivity rate and mortality rate continue.

The institute predicts the daily number of death will also increase to 224 by the end of June, 2021, before showing a decline from July onwards.

Sri Lanka will also need 17,045 more beds and state health sector should increase intensive care unit (ICU) capacity to 3,450, the data suggests.

Sri Lanka currently has 147 ICU beds in hospitals and intermediate facilities dedicated to COVID-19 treatment.

As per IHME projections, Sri Lanka’s daily cases at current rates will likely increase up to 50,495 by next month and will continue at that rate for two months before declining with the number of daily fatalities.

The head of the health ministry’s Disaster Preparedness and Response Division Dr Hemanth Hearth told reporters yesterday that such a situation will arise only if preventative measures aren’t taken.

He said similar projections were made during Sri Lanka’s first wave of COVID-19, but timely action on the part of health authorities prevented the predicted outcomes.

“These types of predictions were made earlier as well. When something like that comes, we work to prevent it. This time also will be the same,” said Herath.

“Due to the behaviour of the public, a surge in daily cases was observed over the last few days,” he added.

Herath’s comment reflects an alleged tendency on the part of the government to shift the blame to the public, which experts have said repeatedly that the authorities made a mistake in reducing daily PCR testing.

“We take every measure to make sure we don’t reach those numbers,” said Herath.

Director, Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura, Dr Chandima Jeewandara too said the general public should support the authorities in preventing the grim outcome predicted by the IHME.

Though he echoed Herath’s sentiment that similar projections had been successfully handled in the past, Jeewandara conceded that IHME projections are accurate “most of the time”.

“If says if we continue to record 2,000 plus cases a day it will come to a situation like that, and the predictions made by this institute are accurate most of the time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s vaccine rollout has resumed after a hiatus, albeit slowly. Some 600,000 people are still awaiting their second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Minister Gammanpila said today that Sri Lanka is in talks with Indonesia and some African countries to secure more AstraZeneca from those countries’ excess stocks, as India has temporarily halted exporting its vaccines. Sri Lanka initially acquired AstraZeneca from India and through the COVAX facility. Over 900,000 people have received their first dose so far.

Gammanpila further said that following discussions between the president and the World Health Organisation (WHO) chief, Sri Lankan can expect more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the coming month.

Sri Lanka is also looking at a mix-and-match approach for those still awaiting their second dose. Doctors will take a final decision on this, the minister said. (Colombo/May11/2021)

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IMF official: Sri Lanka’s road ahead is challenging, critical to keep up with reform momentum

ECONOMYNEXT –International Monetary Fund’s First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath said Sri Lanka’s future with many reforms are challenging, but it is critical to keep up with the reform momentum.

Gopinath stated this after meeting the island nation’s State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe, and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena on the sideline of the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington.

“I commended them on hard-won economic gains in the past year. The road ahead is challenging and it’s critical to keep up with the reform momentum,” Gopinath wrote on her X platform.

Under IMF programme, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has implemented a raft of hard reforms including higher taxes.

Sri Lanka agreed to the IMF programme after it declared bankruptcy with sovereign debt default in April 2022.

Semasinghe after the meeting tanks Gopinath for acknowledging Sri Lanka’s economic progress.

“Our discussion was insightful and productive, and we appreciate the opportunity to delve into the challenges and opportunities ahead,” the State Finance minister said in his X platform.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to our reform agenda and eagerly anticipate continued collaboration with the IMF to advance our shared goals.”

Sri Lanka was compelled to go for IMF after the unprecedented economic crisis which was followed by a political crisis that ousted former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government who were legitimately elected.

The IMF programme has included reforms in state-owned enterprises, fiscal sector and financial sectors to ensure debt sustainability.

The global lender also has pledged its support to speed up the island nation’s lingering debt restructuring process with private creditors including sovereign bond holders. (Colombo/April 22/2021)

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Sri Lanka motor racing crash claims 7 lives, 4 critical

ECONOMYNEXT – A deadly accident at motor Race Sri Lanka’s hill country town of Diyathalawa has claimed at least 7 lives police said, after a racing vehicle, in the seasonal Fox Hill Super Cross ploughed in to spectators after running off the track.

Another 21 spectators were injured Sunday, and hospitalized and at least four were critical, police said.

Thousands of people come to watch the Fox Hill Super Cross race, which is usually held in April, as large numbers of people head to the cooler climes in the hills.

According to footage taken by spectators one car overturned on the side of the track.

Sri Lanka’s Newsfirst television said Marshalls were waving flags to caution other vehicles, when another car went off the track and crashed into spectators. (Colombo/April21/2024)

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Widespread support for Sri Lanka debt workout, reform progress at IMF/WB meet: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – There was widespread support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring and acknowledgement of progress made under an International Monetary Fund program, at meeting of the fund and World Bank, State Minister for Finance Shehan Semasinghe said.

“The strides made in our economic recovery and financial stability have been acknowledged as significant advancements towards our country’s prosperity by our stakeholders and international partners,” Minister Semasinghe said in an x.com (twitter) post after attending the meetings.

“Further, it was heartening to note the widespread appreciation and support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to reaching the restructuring targets and confident of smooth progress in the continued good-faith engagements for a speedy debt resolution that will ensure debt sustainability and comparability of debt treatment.”

Sri Lanka ended a first round of talks with sovereign bondholders in March without striking a deal but some agreement on the basis for a deal.

An initial deal with bilateral creditors have been reached, but they may be awaiting a deal with private creditors to sign formal agreements.

International partners have appreciated reforms made under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister Semasinghe said.

“It was great to engage in productive bilateral discussions with all of whom appreciated the recent economic developments, progress in debt restructuring, strengthening of tax administration, and ongoing governance reforms,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has been allowed to re-appreciate by the central bank amid deflationary monetary policy, bringing tangible benefits to people in the form of lower energy and food prices, unlike in past IMF programs.

Electricity prices were cut as a strengthening currency helped reduce the cost of coal imports.

Related Sri Lanka central bank mainly responsible for electricity price cut

The currency appreciation has also allowed losses to the Employment Provident Fund imposed to be partially recouped, helping old workers near retirement, as well as raising disposable incomes of current wage earners on fixed salaries.

Related Sri Lanka EPF gets US$1.85bn in value back as central bank strengthens rupee

The IMF, which was set up after World War II to end devaluations seen in the 1930s after the Fed’s policy rate infected other key central banks, started to actively encourage depreciation after a change to its founding articles in 1978 (the Second Amendment).

The usefulness of money as a store of value, or a denominator of current and future values then decline, leading to loss of real savings, real wages and increases in social unrest.

Before that, members who devalued more than 10 percent after printing money for growth or any other reason, faced the threat of suspension from the organization as punishment.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has appreciated to around 300 to the US dollar now from 370 after a surrender rule was lifted in March 2023.

But there is no transparency on the basis that economic bureaucrats are allowing the currency to gain against the US dollar (the intervention currency of the central bank).

The rupee is currently under pressure, despite broadly prudent monetary policy, due to an ‘oversold position’ in the market after recent appreciation made importers and banks to run negative open positions as the usefulness of the currency as a denominator of future value declined with sudden strenghtening. (Colombo/Apr21/2024)

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