Sri Lanka’s schools and government offices will close as transport stops

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Colombo (AFP) – Sri Lankan authorities on Friday announced a two-week closure of government offices and schools, with public transport almost entirely at a standstill due to a lack of dollars to pay for imported fuel.

The Ministry of Public Administration has ordered all departments, public establishments and local councils to maintain skeletal services from Monday in response to the acute shortage of petrol and diesel.

“Due to the scarcity of public transport as well as the impossibility of organizing private vehicles, it is decided to drastically reduce the number of employees reporting for work,” the ministry order reads.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948 and has been unable to fund the import of basic necessities such as food, medicine and fuel since the end of the year last.

The country is also facing record inflation and long power outages, all of which have contributed to months of – sometimes violent – protests calling on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down.

Earlier this week, authorities declared Friday a public holiday, also in a bid to save fuel.

Despite the move, long queues were seen outside pumping stations on Friday, with many motorists saying they had waited days to fill their tanks.

The Department of Education said all schools have been told to remain closed for two weeks from Monday and to provide online education if students and teachers have access to electricity.

The shutdown order came a day after the United Nations launched its emergency response to the island’s unprecedented economic crisis by feeding thousands of pregnant women facing food shortages.

Four out of five people in Sri Lanka have started skipping meals because they cannot afford to eat, the UN has said, warning of a ‘serious humanitarian crisis’ looming with millions in need of food. assistance.

The World Food Program (WFP) said it began distributing food vouchers to around 2,000 pregnant women in “underserved” areas of Colombo on Thursday as part of “life-saving assistance”.

WFP is trying to raise $60 million for food aid between June and December.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

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