Iran devalues rial rate by more than half

Updated 07 July 2013

Iran devalues rial rate by more than half

TEHRAN: Iran's central bank yesterday drastically devalued the national currency's fixed subsidized rate against the dollar, as the Islamic republic struggles to shore up its faltering economy.
The rial has lost more than two thirds of its value on the open market since early 2012, when the United States and the European Union imposed harsh economic sanctions curbing Iran's ability to export oil and conduct financial transactions.
The central bank yesterday was selling one US dollar for 24,779 rials at the subsidized rate available only to select importers to procure basic commodities and medicine, according to the bank's website at http://cbi.ir
That rate was a 102-percent increase from 12,260 rials for one dollar that had been kept artificially low since January 2012.
The new "reference" rate is still far stronger than the dollar available to ordinary buyers and travelers at the unofficial open market, which was 33,200 rials per dollar at midday.
By increasing the so-called reference rate, the central bank scrapped its rate used at an "exchange center" that put goods importers in contact with exporters to exchange funds at a rate of around 25,000 to the dollar.
The exchange center, launched late last September, had managed to control the rial's free fall amid increasing international pressure on Iran.
Suspecting Iran's nuclear program has military objectives, Western powers have reinforced a raft of economic sanctions aimed at coercing it into cutting back on uranium enrichment despite Tehran's insistence its atomic ambitions are peaceful.
The sanctions have cost the country billions in vital oil revenues and left it struggling with a shrinking economy, raging inflation and high unemployment.
Yesterday's development came after days of media reports and official denials about pending changes on the official currency market.
According to reports, the budget for the year ending in March 2014 — signed by outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in mid-June but the details are not publicized — gave the central bank permission to increase the official exchange rate.
Ahmadinejad's critics accuse his government of misusing the now scrapped cheap dollar, and of failing to feed the market with sufficient foreign currency or provide funds earmarked for essential goods including medicines.
The price of medicine has risen sharply in the past year.
In June, the Health Ministry's Shams-Ali Rezazadeh said the price of domestically produced drugs was set to rise by at least 35 percent, while imported medicine would go up by an average of 90 percent.


Coronavirus outbreak places cruise ships in the dock

Updated 48 min 22 sec ago

Coronavirus outbreak places cruise ships in the dock

  • Industry defenders deny liners are overcrowded and say that given the high numbers of passengers illnesses are rare

HONG KONG: Deadly viruses, chickenpox outbreaks and mass cases of the runs: Sometimes luxury cruise ship holidays are not the trips of a lifetime elderly passengers had hoped for.

Cruise-goers have fallen sick en masse in the past, their predicament on the high seas coming into sharp focus because the holidays can cost thousands of dollars and are often marketed as trips of a lifetime.

“Cruise ships are very prone to outbreaks of common cold and the vomiting virus,” said John Oxford, professor of virology at Queen Mary University of London.

“Invariably the ships are overcrowded and with so many passengers, hygiene levels can slip.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) logged eight outbreaks aboard cruise ships last year of the highly contagious norovirus, which causes vomiting and diarrhea — hardly the stuff of a dream holiday.

Measles, E. coli, chickenpox and salmonella poisoning have all broken out on cruises in recent years.

“Unfortunately, the more elderly demographic found on a typical liner are more likely to be susceptible to anything which might present a serious health challenge,” cautioned Dr. Simon Clarke, an associate professor at the University of Reading, in Britain.

With global concerns mounting about the threat of the new coronavirus, an elderly Japanese man and woman died on Thursday having been on the virus-stricken Diamond Princess.

The vessel, moored in Yokohama, was by far the biggest coronavirus cluster outside Wuhan, in China. Some have pointed the finger at Japan’s authorities for how they handled the 14-day quarantine of hundreds of passengers.

For now, US authorities have recommended that travelers “reconsider” cruises to or in Asia, citing the risk of coronavirus-linked travel restrictions and quarantines.

Stewart Chiron, a leading industry expert in the US, said cruise ships are nothing like the hotbed of viruses that they are painted out to be and cruise lines take “extensive precautions to keep ships clean.”

“When viruses are introduced, cruise lines have various protocols and procedures to clean ships and prevent further spreading of the virus,” he added.

He said the image of thousands of people crammed together on board — ripe conditions for the spread of illness — is wide of the mark. “Cruise ships are much larger than most people realize. There’s plenty of space for passengers to spread out in to have enjoyable, healthy experiences.” 

He cited CDC figures to show that of the more than 31 million people who holidayed on cruise ships last year, there were 1,038 cases of norovirus, or 0.003 percent.

Chiron and other experts say that the cruise industry has successfully shrugged off past negative headlines and will bounce back once the coronavirus  outbreak passes.

Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s largest cruise industry trade organization, says 17.8 million people took an ocean cruise in 2009, compared with last year’s 31 million, demonstrating its growing popularity.

About half of all passengers are from North America and analysts say they are unlikely to be perturbed by events on vessels in Asia.

“As with previous crises, there may be new-booking slowdowns as people get caught up in news cycles,” said Chiron. “Once this period concludes, there will be a surge of bookings and booking patterns will return to normal.”

Tara C. Smith, professor of epidemiology at Kent State University in Ohio, is not so convinced.

“Granted, I could become ill via any type of travel or even via a staycation with my kindergartener,” said Smith, who trained in microbiology and infectious diseases. “But cruise ships take those risks of background infection and amplify them due to the constant shared quarters of travelers on board.”

Smith conceded that coronavirus was an “extreme example” and said that most cruise passengers will experience no problems at all.

“But personally, I’d rather not take the risk,” she said.

“One never knows what infections might enter on a cruise ship and it’s a location where you’re trapped with all your fellow passengers. It just doesn’t sound like a fun vacation to me.”