Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Sri Lanka shuts schools, urges work from home to save fuel

CNA – Troops in Sri Lanka handed tokens yesterday to people queueing for petrol amid a severe fuel shortage in the nation battling its worst economic crisis in seven decades, while schools shut in Colombo and public employees were asked to work from home.

With its foreign exchange reserves at a record low, the island of 22 million is struggling to pay for essential imports of food, medicine and most critically, fuel.

“I have been in line for four days, I haven’t slept or eaten properly during this time,” said autorickshaw driver WD Shelton, 67, one of those who received a token meant to hold his place in the queue for when fuel becomes available.

It was not immediately clear how far the government could stretch its fuel reserves.

The stockpiles stand at about 9,000 tonnes of diesel and 6,000 tonnes of petrol, Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said on Sunday, but no fresh shipments are due.

The government told employees to work from home until further notice, while schools have been shut for a week in the commercial capital of Colombo and surrounding areas.

Fuel station queues have grown rapidly since last week.

Public transport, power generation and medical services will get priority in fuel distribution, with some rationed to ports and airports.

A team from the International Monetary Fund is visiting Sri Lanka to hold talks on a USD3 billion bailout package. Although the nation is hoping to reach a staff-level agreement before the visit ends on Thursday, that is unlikely to unlock any immediate funds.

Motorists queue along a street to buy fuel at a Ceylon Petroleum Corporation fuel station in Colombo. PHOTO: AFP