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China-Lanka ties may touch low over Beijing made vaccines

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China-Lanka ties may touch low over Beijing made vaccines

China’s ties with one of its close partners in South Asia, Sri Lanka, have touched a low over a Covid-19 vaccine that Beijing has been adamant to push.

The Lankan cabinet on Tuesday decided to give preference to Indian and Russian vaccines over the vaccine produced by China’s Sinopharm.

The decision came amid Beijing’s move to first administer the vaccine only on Chinese nationals based in Lanka and opposition allegations that the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government had been succumbing under Chinese pressure. Opposition MPs have alleged that Lankan regulatory body officials were removed to get Sinopharm approved in Lanka. These officials had not been in favour of approving the vaccine. Sinopharm’s vaccine has not been given approval by regulators in Sri Lanka. It is also not administered on the local population.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka, for all practical purposes, closed the door on the Chinese vaccine despite Beijing’s claim of making a bigger donation of doses compared with India.

The Lankan cabinet announced that the government decided to buy an additional 6 million doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine.

Last month, Colombo had placed an order for 7 million doses of the Sputnik vaccine at $69.65 million. These are on top of 13.5 million doses of the India-made AstraZeneca vaccine it had already ordered, ET has reliably learnt.

The Indian and Russian vaccines alone will cover about 65% of Sri Lanka’s 21 million population, according to Lankan government officials.

Cabinet spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters in Colombo on Tuesday that with the order for Sputnik V, the government had reached the required number of doses to inoculate the targeted population to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the island.

He said other orders would be considered if there were any supply shortfalls.

India had donated 500,000 doses of vaccines to Sri Lanka in January. China topped it by 100,000 with a gift of 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine on March 31.

However, unlike the Indian-made vaccine, Sri Lanka is yet to approve the use of Sinopharm vaccine and it was allowed into the country on the basis that it will be used only to inoculate Chinese nationals in Sri Lanka. Beijing, ET has learnt, has been making desperate moves to get its vaccine approved in Sri Lanka.

Published at Wed, 07 Apr 2021 17:34:27 +0000