Your briefing on Wednesday: Sri Lanka, without fuel

Good morning. We are talking about an economic catastrophe in Sri Lanka, Covid-19 frustration in Shanghai and health equality in India.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis may be worse than it was during the three-decade civil war: petrol pumps are running low and the new Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, revealed the mounting disaster is even worse than previously thought.

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 couldn’t even find $5 million to import gasoline. With no money coming, fuel ships were anchored offshore, their cargoes out of reach.

“The next few months will be the hardest of our lives,” Wickremesinghe said.

Details: Much of the population struggles to get together three meals a day and cooking gas has been off for weeks. Hospitals are short of life-saving drugs because pharmaceutical companies have not been paid for months.

Background: Despite years of warnings that the ruling Rajapaksa family mismanaged the country, the collapse is staggering. Wickremesinghe said foreign reserves totaled $7.5 billion when the Rajapaksas returned to power in 2019. Since then they have fallen to almost nothing.

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

The city’s health officials said the Covid outbreak in Shanghai was under control. Officials said they had reached “societal zero,” a term used by Chinese authorities to denote the absence of uncontrolled community transfer.

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

The most liked comment was from a user who described that he had just taken another mandatory test and was not allowed to leave the neighborhood. Others said they were still unable to receive deliveries and were running out of essentials.

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

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

With other updates:

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

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

A public health researcher said the health workers have helped bridge huge gaps in the delivery of health services in the most remote corners of the country, but are still seen as volunteers.

Background: Public health care remains hugely underfunded; India has a shortage of more than 600,000 doctors and two million nurses, according to a recent report. Maternal mortality, while still high, has fallen in recent years, thanks in part to health workers.

COVID-19: These women helped detect cases early and shared information on prevention, counter vaccine hesitancy and helped India run one of the largest vaccination campaigns in the world. Still, dozens died after exposure to the coronavirus, in part because they lacked protective gear.

Canadians have great respect for Queen Elizabeth II, the ailing 96-year-old British monarch. But many are increasingly skeptical of the monarchy and also hate Prince Charles, who is touring the country this week to celebrate her platinum anniversary.

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

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

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

An ancient tooth found in a mountain cave in Laos provides an answer by placing Denisovans in the path of modern humans moving east. “We knew Denisovans should be here,” said a co-author of the new study. “It’s nice to have 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 nearly twice as old as the oldest evidence of modern humans in the region. The discovery puts the Denisovans right where they needed to interbreed with modern humans in Southeast Asia.

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