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COVID-19 pandemic darkens South Asia: World Bank



The COVID-19 pandemic hit South Asian nations late but hard, said a report by the World Bank released last Thursday.

The report prepared by the Office of the Chief Economist for the South Asia Region (SARCE) and the Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment (MTI) Global Practice says the pandemic is yet not under control in the region – home to nearly 2 billion people.

The crisis brought South Asia to a near standstill, the report said.

However, the report acknowledged the governments in the region took early containment measures against the pandemic.

“But not all countries were able to contain the domestic spread of COVID-19. Due to low testing, social stigma, and a young population, the actual extent of COVID-19 infections is highly uncertain, but likely much higher than recorded numbers suggest,” it said.

Besides hitting movement and economic activity, the report said the lockdown measures “triggered massive supply disruptions.”

“Information from high-frequency variables, combined in activity indicators, show an unprecedented contraction,” it added.

While the activity dropped by 40% in Pakistan in April, other countries saw a two-thirds drop.

Although the activity has recovered subsequently across the region, “it remained below pre-COVID levels in August.” All the countries witnessed contraction in GDP.

“The collapse in activity was widespread. The economic disruption is even visible from space: South Asia has darkened since March,” the report explained.

“Between March and August, nighttime light intensity declined in more than three-quarters of South Asia’s districts. In August, the average nighttime light intensity across districts was still 10% below its level a year earlier,” the study said. “Mobility declined strongly in nearly all districts, as a result both of national containment measures and local COVID-19 infections.”

Referring to the state of COVID-19 in India, the report showed there is heterogeneity across districts due to voluntary reductions in mobility due to higher local prevalence of COVID-19.

“During the national lockdown in India, districts with more recorded COVID-19 infections per capita experienced larger declines in mobility and nighttime lights.”

Although the local governments “proactively stabilized economic activity through monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and supportive financial regulation,” the report added: “The situation is fragile amid weak buffers and exhausted policy tools in some countries.”

The report also said that it is yet not clear “whether lockdowns can effectively mitigate a pandemic in countries with a large share of urban poor and densely populated cities.”

“In some cases, they may even be counterproductive.”

The report maintained that the decline in demand and supply disruptions generated by the pandemic and the policies required to contain its spread “have resulted in severe reductions in incomes in the South Asia region.”

“An effective policy response will require a clear understanding of which households and firms are most in need of assistance, and how to reach them,” it added.

“Finding ways to assist these workers will be critical to addressing the welfare losses from the pandemic.”

However, it added that the COVID-19 response “cannot only focus on supporting incomes.”

“The survival of many informal sector firms is threatened by what is hoped to be a temporary shock to their markets and access to supplies. These firms tend to be quite small and lack the savings and the financial access to keep afloat during this extended crisis,” the report added.

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Govt. allows private operators to import fuel for industries – minister



ECONOMYNEXT – The Government has allowed private bunker fuel operators to import fuel for industries, Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said on Friday, in a bid to reduce the burden on cash-strapped state-run fuel retailer Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC).

The move comes as a severe dollar shortage has reduced CPC’s ability to import fuel and meet the demand as earlier amid long motorists’ queues for fuel.

“Approval was given to all the private bunker fuel operators to import and provide diesel and fuel oil requirements of industries to function their Generators and Machinery,” Wijesekera said in his Twitter platform.

“This will ease the burden on CPC and fuel stations providing in bulk. The meeting was held yesterday.”

Approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations providing in bulk. The meeting was held yesterday.

— Kanchana Wijesekera (@kanchana_wij) May 27, 2022

In April, Sri Lanka cabinet has agreed to amend the Petroleum Products Act making provisions to issue licenses to “properly identified parties” to import fuel which will end an import monopoly held by the CPC.

There was a push to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) to import its own oil as the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation was unable to get foreign exchange and the power utility ran out of cash due to lack of a price increases.

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Protesters ask PM to serve justice for May 09 attack



ECONOMYNEXT – Hundreds of anti-government protesters agitated in front of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesighe ’s office Colombo demanding justice for May 09 attack by the supporters of previous prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and immediate measures to overcome ongoing economic crisis to prevent a looming social unrest.

The youth-led groups which had been protesting near presidential secretariat and prime minister’s official residence in the heart of commercial Colombo shifted neat the prime minister’s office and shouted against the new government’s inaction against the brutal attack at unarmed and peaceful protesters by Rajapaksa supporters on May 09.

They demanded the new Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to implement the rule of law without being biased to any parties and serve the country.

Rukshan, a 25 years old protester said, as per the initial demands of their protests, former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned from his position, but his successor should do his duties towards the country and the people without trying to protect corrupt politicians.

“When we started the protest back in April our main demand was to bring all Rajapaksas before justice and get all the wealth they have stolen from the common people of this country,”  Rukshan told Economy Next.

The protest started around mid-day on Thursday (26) and protesters’ route was blocked by police barricades on the main road in front of the prime minister’s office.

The protesters, however, withdrew from their positions and regrouped at a nearby road to go towards the Wickremesinghe’s office.

However, by the time the protesters regrouped, a court order was issued by the Fort Magistrate to stop the protest due to inconvenience to the public.

“Ranil Wickramasinghe should remember why he is here now. We’re not asking him to resign. He is here to do his duty towards this country and its people,” Rukshan said.

“On May 09, we were attacked but no justice has been served yet. That is the main reason we came today to the prime minister’s office,” he said.

“We still see queues for medicine, fuel, and gas. To be honest, there is no medicine in the market. No medicine for cancer patients. If you get bitten by a dog, then there is no medicine for you. They (the market) don’t have any of that.”

Wickremesinghe has been working over a new budget and discussing with international partners to ensure uninterrupted supply of essentials, officials close to him have said. However, it will take time, they say.

Rukshan said the country is running due to the state workers, who are working as they are being paid salaries after the government’s excess money printing.

“When that stops, then there will definitely be a revolution in this country,” he said.

“When a person goes to office in the morning, there is no fuel for the vehicle, or no public transport available. They get late and the salaries are being cut because of that. And when they come home, they don’t have gas to cook a meal.”

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Weerawansa’s wife gets two years for passport offence



Her lawyers file appeal challenging sentence

Colombo Chief Magistrate Buddhika Sri Ragala on Friday sentenced Shashi Weerawansa the wife of former minister Wimal Weerawansa to two years in prison. Shashi was found guilty of using falsified documents to obtain a passport.

The Magistrate also ordered the accused to pay a fine of Rs. 100,000 in addition to the imprisonment and an additional six months of jail if she does not pay the fine.

Sashi Weerawansa is found guilty by the court for obtaining diplomatic and general passports by submitting birth certificates with forged names and dates of birth.

She had applied for a diplomatic passport in 2010 by submitting false personal information which was different to what appears in her previous normal passport that expired on May 24, 2009.

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