For the next two weeks, only buses, trains, ambulances, and vehicles used to transport food will be allowed to fill up their tanks.
Sri Lanka has asked all citizens to work from home and schools in urban areas have also been shut down – all in an attempt to conserve fuel and energy.
Government spokesperson Bandula Gunawardana said on Tuesdat that the sales ban was to save petrol and diesel for emergencies. “From midnight today, no fuel will be sold except for essential services like the health sector, because we want to conserve the little reserves we have.”
He added: “We regret the inconvenience caused to the people.”
Nathan Piper, head of oil and gas research at Investec, said Sri Lanka is the first country to take such an extreme step and suspend sales of fuel to ordinary people “since the 1970s oil crisis when fuel was rationed in the US and Europe and speed limits introduced to reduce demand”, according to BBC News.
Sri Lanka is also facing record-high inflation and blackouts, which has led to protests across the country and added to calls that president Gotabaya Rajapaksa step down.
Sri Lankan authorities have also indicated that they might have to seek cheap oil from Russia — which is facing sanctions from the West and several other countries.
Sri Lanka said it is sending two government ministers to Russia on Monday to negotiate for fuel. Power and energy minister Kanchana Wijesekera Wijesekera said the two ministers would continue talks that Sri Lanka has been having with Russian authorities to directly purchase fuel, among other related issues.
The crisis-hit nation of 22 million people is struggling to secure fresh fuel supplies, Mr Wijesekera said on Sunday. He added that stockpiles stand at about 9,000 tonnes of diesel and 6,000 tonnes of petrol with no fresh shipments due. Over the past few days, long queues were seen outside few pumping stations that still had supplies.
Mr Wijesekera had said: “We are doing everything we can to get new stocks but we don’t know when that will be.”
About two weeks ago, the United Nations said that Sri Lanka is facing a full-blown humanitarian crisis. “We are concerned that this could develop into a full-blown humanitarian emergency, and we are taking action to address that concern,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said.
The UN and its partners also appealed for $47m to address the immediate needs of the most vulnerable people and those most affected by the crisis.
Last week, a team from the International Monetary Fund arrived in Sri Lanka for talks over a $3bn (£2.4bn) bailout deal.
The government is also seeking help from China and India.
Meanwhile, at the G7 summit in Germany, US president Joe Biden announced $20m in additional assistance to strengthen food security in Sri Lanka.
“President Biden’s announcement of $20m in additional assistance to Sri Lanka demonstrates the United States’ ongoing commitment to food security, public health, and the economic well-being of all Sri Lankan people,” said US ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung.
“The United States will continue to support Sri Lankan efforts to promote economic stability and will ensure this assistance reaches the communities – and children – who need it most.”