Sri Lankans welcome measures to breathe life into virus-hit economy

People maintain the one-meter distance in-between each other in Colombo. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 March 2020

Sri Lankans welcome measures to breathe life into virus-hit economy

  • President announces relief packages to lessen financial difficulties
  • Rajapaksa has also pledged a donation to the SAARC Coronavirus Fund,


COLOMBO: Sri Lankans from all walks of life hailed relief measures introduced by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Tuesday, as the country continues to grapple with economic difficulties caused by the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

Some of the measures include the launch of a “COVID-19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund,” with an initial capital of $525,000, to aid those directly impacted by the crisis.

“The president’s packages embrace people of all sectors … It is a great relief to the distressed ones,” Ali Sabry, a senior lawyer, told Arab News, adding that the president “had set an example for others to follow.”

Rajapaksa has also pledged a donation to the SAARC Coronavirus Fund, which was launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week. 

“After the president’s move, the management of a leading mosque in Colpetty in elite Colombo has come forward to help the poorest among the poor,” Sabry said.

As part of the relief measures, a six-month debt moratorium will be imposed on tourism and textile industries, with costs to be borne by the central bank.

Additionally, a grace period for the payment of income tax and VAT, monthly credit card bills less than $264 and renewal of driving licenses will be extended until April 30.

The move will also suspend the leasing loan repayment for owners of three-wheeler vehicles for six months. It will also delay the recovery of loans from government and private sector employees until May 30.

Experts, however, expressed some concerns.

Muheed Jeeran, a human rights activist and international lobbyist, told Arab News that the president should “give priority to the health and not the wealth of the people.”

He added: “If the people’s health is in jeopardy, how can we build a healthy nation?”

Jeeran said that the president should impose a lockdown in affected districts and, with the help of the army, ensure that people stay at home until screening procedures are complete.

Sri Lanka’s Muslim Council Chairman N.M. Ameen told Arab News that the president had implemented the measures “realizing full well the plight of the people under the circumstances.”

Mohammed, a leading travel agent in the city, disagreed, reasoning that the relief measures are specifically designed for the middle class, while the upper class — who had incurred considerable losses in the tourism and exports trade sectors — could not benefit from the new proposals.

However, an Asian diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News that the middle class forms the majority of the population and is part of a sector that needs maximum assistance.

Chile’s LATAM Airlines files for US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

Updated 34 min 57 sec ago

Chile’s LATAM Airlines files for US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

  • The company is the largest airline in Latin America
  • LATAM said they have about $1.3 billion in cash on hand

LATAM Airlines Group SA said on Tuesday the company and its affiliates in Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and US have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States, due to a slump in travel worldwide amid the coronavirus crisis.
Latin America’s largest airline said it secured funding from shareholders, including two of its largest the Cueto and Amaro families, and Qatar Airways, to provide up to $900 million in debtor-in-possession financing.
The company said it had about $1.3 billion in cash on hand.
“We have implemented a series of difficult measures to mitigate the impact of this unprecedented industry disruption, but ultimately this path represents the best option,” Chief Executive Officer Roberto Alvo said.
LATAM Airlines Group listed assets and liabilities in the range of $10 billion and $50 billion, according to a filing with the US Bankruptcy Court in Southern District of New York.
The airlines and its affiliates will continue to fly with no impact on passenger or cargo operations and reservations, the company said.
The company said its affiliates in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay were not included in the Chapter 11 filing.
LATAM Airlines’ Brazilian affiliates are in discussions with the Brazilian government about the next steps and financial support for operations in the country.