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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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PSC action could cripple health services, warns GMOA Secretary



There were vacancies for 89 specialist doctors in government teaching hospitals due to certain actions taken by the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said yesterday.

GMOA secretary Dr. Senal Fernando yesterday told The Island those vacancies had the potential to cripple the state health service, as the service was stressed due to COVID-19.

Dr. Fernando said: “Specialist doctors are appointed and transfered according to procedures established by the Health Service Minute. The Ministry of Health is responsible for the transfers and the PSC should oversee the transfering process to ensure that they are made in a proper manner.”

“The PSC has ordered the appointment of a committee to look into the matter but there is no mention of such a committee in the Health Service Minute. Instead of following the process, the PSC has tried to intervene in the process and 89 posts remain vacant during the time of COVID-19,” he said.

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Hizbullah denies links with Zahran



But signed agreement for Zahran’s help in 2015 GE

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former Governor of the Eastern Province, M. L. A. M. Hizbullah on Monday night told the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) probing Easter Sunday attacks, that he had not had any links to National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) leader Zahran Hashim. The NTJ members had assaulted his supporters at Kattankudy in March 2017, he said.

Hizbullah said so when the Commissioners asked him about his links with Zahran.

Hizbullah was also asked about billions of rupees he had received from foreign organisations since 2016. Earlier in the day, it was revealed that close to Rs. 4 billion had been deposited by foreign individuals and institutions in two accounts Hizbullah operated at the Bank of Ceylon Colpetty Branch from 2016 to 2019.

The witness said the Sri Lanka Hira Foundation, a social service institution run by him, had received money from foreign countries after March 2016.

“Ali Abdullah al-Juffali of Saudi Arabia gave Rs. 308 million and Siddique and Diana Osmond of London gave Rs. 5.5 million,” he said.

Hizbullah added that he knew al-Juffali and some other Saudi philanthropists. Al Juffali family was one of the richest Saudis with an estimated worth USD 19.8 billion, he said.

Then, a video of a discussion Zahran had with Sibli Farooq of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress was played at the PCoI.

The video showed Zahran and Farooq talking about a sum of one million riyals that Hizbullah had allegedly received from Saudi Arabia. In the video, Zahran says that he had no problem with Hizbullah receiving money from Saudi Arabia.

In response, Hizbullah said that by the 2015 Presidential election, Farooq and Zahran had been against him. A member of the Commission then asked why Hizbullah had entered into an agreement with Zahran during an election if he had acted against him.

Hizbullah said Zahran had told, on social media, that he would support politicians who agreed to some of his proposals.” All the parties joined him. I also went along,” he said. Earlier, it was revealed that representatives for the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC,) Democratic Party, UNP, UPFA and National Front for Good Governance (NFGG) had signed agreements with Zahran in exchange for the support of NTJ in 2015.

Hizbullah was also questioned on the Aliyar clash between NTJ and Sunnath Wal Jamaat, a group that supported Hizbullah, on 10 March, 2017.

“Did you ask Zahran to surrender to the court through his mother?” a member of the Commission questioned.

“I made no such comment. I do not know if anyone in my party did so,” he said.

The Commissioners also asked Hizbullah about growing date palms in the Kattankudy area and placing Arabic billboards.

The witness replied that he had grown date palms because of the high temperatures in the area. Nameplates with Arabic letters had been put up to attract Arabic students as they were largely visiting the area, he said.

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CA annuls summons issued on President



The Court of Appeal yesterday annulled the summons issued on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the disappearance of two persons in Jaffna in 2011.

Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan went missing in 2011. Last year, Jaffna Magistrate’s Court issued summons on Rajapaksa over a habeas corpus petition filed by the relatives of the two missing activists. They had named Rajapaksa one of the respondents since he was the Defence Secretary at the time of the disappearances.

Earlier, Rajapaksa had submitted a writ application stating that he found it difficult to appear before the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court due to security reasons. The Court of Appeal issued an injunction preventing Rajapaksa being summoned by the Magistrate.

President of the Court of Appeal A. H. M. D. Nawaz, declaring their decision, said that a Magistrate’s Court could only issue summons over a specific reason. However the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court had issued the summons based on a motion of a lawyer and that there was no legal basis for the summons. Thus, the Court of Appeal issued a writ notification declaring the summons issued by the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court void.



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