For the next two weeks, only buses, trains, and vehicles used for medical services and food transport will be permitted to refuel.
Urban schools have closed, and officials have advised the country’s 22 million residents to work from home.
The South Asian country is negotiating a bailout agreement as it struggles to pay for imports such as fuel and food.
According to Nathan Piper, head of oil and gas research at Investec, Sri Lanka is the first country to take the drastic step of halting fuel sales to ordinary people “since the 1970s oil crisis, when fuel was rationed in the US and Europe and speed limits were introduced to reduce demand.”
He stated that the ban highlighted Sri Lanka’s steep rise in oil prices and limited foreign exchange reserves.
Many island residents are unsure how they will survive without fuel. For months, long lines have formed at filling stations throughout Sri Lanka.
Chinthaka Kumara, a 29-year-old Colombo taxi driver, believed the ban would “create more problems for people.”
“I work on a daily basis. I’ve been in this line for three days and I’m not sure when we’ll get gas “He stated to BBC Sinhala.
Drivers have been asked to return home, and tokens have been distributed to ration scarce fuel stocks. Some people could keep queuing, but others couldn’t.
“I had been waiting in line for two days. I received a token – number 11 – but I’m not sure when I’ll get fuel “S Wijetunga, a 52-year-old executive in the private sector, told the BBC.
“I need to get to the office right now, so I have no choice but to leave my car here and ride in a three-wheeler.”
Kenat, a motorized rickshaw driver in Colombo’s Kotahena suburb, said people like him were being “destroyed.”
“We used to eat three meals a day, but now we only eat twice a day, and if this continues, it will be down to one meal,” he told BBC Tamil.
‘Severe economic downturn’
With its economy battered by the pandemic, rising energy prices, and populist tax cuts, Sri Lanka lacks sufficient foreign currency to pay for essential goods imports.
Acute fuel, food, and medicine shortages have contributed to record-high living costs in the country, where many people rely on motor vehicles for a living.
The government announced on Monday that private vehicles would be prohibited from purchasing gasoline and diesel until July 10.
Bandula Gunewardena, a Cabinet spokesperson, stated that Sri Lanka had “never faced such a severe economic crisis in its history.”
In order to secure cheap oil supplies, the cash-strapped country has also dispatched officials to major energy producers, Russia and Qatar.
Officials said over the weekend that the country only had 9,000 tonnes of diesel and 6,000 tonnes of gasoline to fuel essential services in the coming days.
Under normal conditions, the stocks are expected to last less than a week.
“We are doing everything we can to get new stocks, but we don’t know when that will be,” Kanchana Wijesekera, the power and energy minister, told reporters on Sunday.
For the first time in its history, the country defaulted on its debts to international lenders in May. Protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government had raged for weeks. His brother Mahinda resigned as prime minister, but the president remains under pressure to step down.
“The government appears to take no action at all,” Kannan, another driver in the capital looking for fuel, told BBC Tamil.
“They are requesting that we be patient. They claim they don’t have any money. But I have a question for the government: who is to blame for this?”
Instead, he suggested that “educated youngsters” lead the country.
An IMF team arrived in Sri Lanka last week to discuss a $3 billion (£2.4 billion) bailout deal.
The government is also looking for help from India and China to import the necessary items. Earlier this month, new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stated that the country would require at least $5 billion over the next six months to pay for necessities such as food, fuel, and fertilizer.
Ministers have also called on farmers to grow more rice and given government employees an extra day off a week to grow food in recent weeks, amid fears of a food shortage.
The government blames the crisis on the Covid pandemic, which harmed Sri Lanka’s tourist industry, which is one of the country’s largest foreign currency earners.
However, many experts believe that mismanagement is the primary cause of the economic downturn.
Sri Lanka’s foreign currency reserves were nearly depleted after years of importing far more than exporting and incurring massive debts with China on contentious infrastructure projects.
When foreign currency shortages in Sri Lanka became a serious problem in early 2021, the government attempted to limit the outflow by prohibiting the importation of chemical fertilizer and instructing farmers to use locally sourced organic fertilizer instead.
As a result, many crops failed. Sri Lanka had to import food, which exacerbated the country’s foreign currency shortage.