Your Wednesday Briefing: Sri Lanka, Out of Fuel

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Good morning. We’re covering an economic catastrophe in Sri Lanka, Covid-19 frustration in Shanghai and health equity in India.

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Fuel lines in Colombo on Tuesday.
Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis may be worse than during its three-decade-long civil war: Gas pumps are all but dry, and the new prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, revealed that the mounting disaster is even worse than imagined.

Wickremesinghe, who took on the role last week after widespread protests forced his predecessor into hiding, said on national television on Monday that the government could not find even $5 million to import gasoline. With no money coming, fuel ships remained anchored offshore, their cargoes out of reach.

“The next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives,” Wickremesinghe said.

Details: A large part of the population is struggling to scratch together three meals a day, and cooking gas has been out for weeks. Hospitals are short on lifesaving medicines because pharmaceutical companies have not been paid for months.

Background: Despite years of warnings that the ruling Rajapaksa family was mismanaging the country, the collapse is dizzying. Wickremesinghe said that foreign reserves had stood at $7.5 billion when the Rajapaksas returned to power in 2019. They have since fallen to almost nothing.

Analysis: Other low- and middle-income countries face overlapping catastrophes, as Russia’s war in Ukraine crashes into an economic slowdown in China.


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Credit…Aly Song/Reuters

The city’s health officials said that Shanghai’s Covid outbreak was under control. Officials declared that they had achieved “societal zero,” a term used by the Chinese authorities to indicate the absence of uncontrolled community transmission.

But even as state media celebrated the news, some Shanghai residents noted that they were still under strict lockdown measures. After months of open frustration, residents again aired their grievances on Weibo, under a state media post celebrating what it described as a return to normalcy.

The most-liked comment was by a user who described having just taken another mandatory test and not being allowed to leave the neighborhood. Others said they still could not receive deliveries and were running low on essentials.

Details: Some businesses, bus lines and parks have resumed operations, and officials announced a goal of reopening fully by June. But schools remain closed, as do theaters, gyms and other cultural venues. State media acknowledged that even in areas with looser restrictions, residents needed permission to leave their neighborhoods.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other updates:


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Credit…Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times

An army of one million female health workers provide basic health care to India’s most vulnerable women and children — sometimes at risk to their own lives.

Now, after helping save hundreds of thousands of people during the pandemic, they are protesting over their meager wages. Right now, the women make about $40 a month, with incentives. They want a monthly base salary of around $150.

A public health researcher said that the health workers have helped bridge enormous gaps in delivering health services in the remotest corners of the country but are still just seen as volunteers.

Background: Public health care remains vastly underfunded; India has a shortage of over 600,000 doctors and two million nurses, according to a recent report. The maternal mortality rate, though still high, has dropped in recent years, in part thanks to the health workers.

Covid-19: These women helped in the early detection of cases and shared information on prevention, countering vaccine hesitancy and helping India carry out one of the largest vaccination drives in the world. Still, dozens died after exposure to the coronavirus, in part because they lacked protective gear.

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Credit…Pool photo by Henry Nicholls

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Credit…Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

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Credit…Pool photo by Hannah Mckay

Canadians widely respect Queen Elizabeth II, the ailing 96-year-old British monarch. But many are increasingly skeptical of the monarchy and also dislike Prince Charles, who is touring the country this week to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee.

“The general approach now in Canada is that the monarchy is there, it’s not broken,” one expert said. “Don’t deal with it, but also don’t give it any more room than it actually needs.”

Denisovans, a branch of ancient humans that disappeared roughly 50,000 years ago, are among the ancestors of people alive today in Australia and the Pacific.

But for more than a decade, their migration remained a mystery. Scientists have found Denisovan remains only in Siberia and Tibet, far from the path of humans who moved from Africa through Southeast Asia before reaching the Pacific.

An ancient tooth, found in a mountain cave in Laos, offers an answer by putting Denisovans right in the path of modern humans moving east. “We knew that Denisovans should be here,” a co-author of the new study said. “It’s nice to have some tangible evidence of their existence in this area.”

The researchers estimate that the tooth, a girl’s molar, is between 164,000 and 131,000 years old, making it almost twice as old as the oldest evidence of modern humans found in the region. The discovery puts the Denisovans exactly where they needed to be to interbreed with modern humans in Southeast Asia.

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Credit…David Malosh for The New York Times

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