Sri Lanka replaces the minister supposed to advertise the shaman’s recipe as a covid treatment

Sri Lankan politician Pavithra Wanniarachchi, who was former Minister of Health, was assigned to the Ministry of Transport.

Lakruwan Wanniarachchi | AFP | Getty Images

Sri Lanka’s president replaced the country’s health minister in a cabinet reshuffle this week as the Covid crisis worsened and daily deaths and infections hit record highs.

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi was transferred to the Ministry of Transport. Former media minister and official cabinet spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, has been appointed as the new health minister.

During Wanniarachchi’s tenure, the Ministry of Health was criticized for its handling of the pandemic. She also attracted controversy for allegedly using and supporting alternative medicines to prevent Covid-19.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the cabinet reshuffle.

Neither President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office nor the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health responded immediately to CNBC’s requests for comments.

Herbal syrup and ‘blessed’ water

Wanniarachchi advertised a herbal syrup with honey and nutmeg that was created of a shaman who claimed it was a lifetime vaccination against the virus, the BBC reported. The shaman reportedly said the recipe was given to him in a visionary dream.

Doctors reportedly denied claims about the syrup’s effectiveness, but thousands defied social restrictions and traveled to a village in central Sri Lanka to receive the brew. Several politicians also reportedly ingested the potion.

The former health minister fell ill with Covid-19 and was reportedly in intensive care in January.

Last November, Wanniarachchi also poured a pot of “blessed” water into a river after a self-proclaimed god-man told her he would end the pandemic in Sri Lanka, the AFP reported.

Covid increase

Daily Covid cases in Sri Lanka have increased since July and have topped an average of 3,000 in the past few days. The country reported more than 7,000 new cases on Tuesday alone.

Since the pandemic started last year, the situation appeared to be under control until mid-April when cases began to rise – infections reported daily declined between June and early July before the numbers rose again.

Information compiled by Our World In Data showed that on August 17, the country reported 199.02 new cases per million people on a moving average of seven days. The total population of Sri Lanka is about 21.8 million people.

The number of reported deaths has also increased – a seven-day moving average there were 7.30 deaths per million people on August 17, compared with about 1.77 deaths on July 17.

The government has so far resisted calls for a lockdown to slow the surge in cases and deaths plaguing Sri Lankan hospitals.

Instead, the government appears to be banking on vaccines to deal with the surge.

The Associated Press reported that Sri Lanka used more than 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine when it began its vaccination campaign in January, before deliveries from India were halted. Sri Lanka has also used syringes from China, Japan, the United States and the global vaccine exchange program for low income countries called Covax.

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