Chinese pharma company to set up Covid-19 vaccine plant in Sri Lanka

BySutirtho Patranobis
Aug 15, 2021 03:46 PM IST

The new plant will be set up in Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home district, Hambantota, under an agreement that will allow Colombo to source 9mn Covid-19 vaccine doses from Chinese company Sinovac Biotech

China and Sri Lanka are set to deepen their bilateral “vaccine diplomacy” with a leading Chinese pharma company preparing to set up a manufacturing plant to make anti-Covid jabs in President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s home district, Hambantota.

People over 60 receive their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (REUTERS)
People over 60 receive their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (REUTERS)

The new plant will be set up under an agreement that will allow Colombo to source nine million Covid-19 vaccine doses from the Chinese pharma company that sets it up, Sri Lankan ambassador to China, Palitha Kohona, told HT.

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A deal between Sri Lanka’s State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC), a state-owned enterprise, and China’s Sinovac Biotech is “fairly close to completion,” Kohana said.

“It will be set up in the dedicated pharmaceutical manufacturing zone [in Hambantota],” the Sri Lankan envoy said.

The Sinovac vaccine is one of the two Chinese jabs approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) under its “emergency-use listing”; the other being from state-owned Sinopharm.

The development comes months after India gifted 500,000 doses of the Indian-made version of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Colombo, which kicked off Sri Lanka’s vaccine roll-out in late January.

But in the first week of April, Sri Lanka had to temporarily suspend its vaccination programme because of the delay in the supply of AZ jabs from India.

The Sino-Lanka vaccine arrangement was subsequently hastened after India stopped supplying vaccines to neighbouring countries to meet its domestic need for jabs following the devastating surge in local Covid-19 cases March onwards.

Kohona said it was originally India that was supposed to supply vaccines to Sri Lanka, but the plan fell through because of the Covid-19 crisis.

The SPC had approached the Chinese government to set up a vaccine plant in the zone earlier this year, given the rising demand for Covid-19 vaccines in Sri Lanka, Kohona said.

The SPC and Sinovac then finalised the deal and the specifics of the plant are currently being worked out.

The Sri Lankan government has earmarked some 400 acres of land in the Hambantota-Arabokka area and announced tax exemptions for foreign companies ready to set up manufacturing units.

“The need for vaccines in Sri Lanka will last a long while. People will need [vaccines in the future as well],” Kohona said.

The new plant will be located in the same district where the lease of the China-built Hambantota port for 99 years to Beijing has raised strategic and military concerns for India.

Over the years, China has pumped billions in Sri Lanka in critical infrastructure projects including in the Colombo Port City project, roads, highways, and power plants.

Beijing is now also leading in its supply of vaccines to Sri Lanka.

China has so far donated some 2.7 million vaccine doses to the island nation, a mix of the two Chinese jabs. Colombo has additionally purchased more than 12 million doses from China as well.

Majority of Lankan citizens have so far received the Sinopharm vaccine, Chinese state media reported.

Besides the Indian and Chinese vaccines, Colombo has procured vaccines from Japan (Pfizer) and Russia (Sputnik).

In July, it also received more than 1.5 million doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine from the US under the Covax mechanism.

Until Friday, over 11 million first dose Covid-19 vaccines had been administered across Sri Lanka under the ongoing mass vaccination programme for citizens above 30 years of age.

According to official figures, the leading vaccine being administered across the country is the Sinopharm vaccine from China with 9,246,429 first doses administered and 3,116,114 second doses administered as of last week.

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