Sri Lanka’s health minister, who has faced criticism for consuming and endorsing a herbal syrup made by a sorcerer, has tested positive for Covid-19.
A Health Ministry official confirmed on Saturday that Pavithra Wanniarachchi is the highest-ranking official to be infected with the virus. She and her immediate contacts have been asked to self-quarantine.
Doctors have said there is no scientific basis for the syrup, reportedly containing honey and nutmeg, as a remedy for coronavirus.
Thousands of people formed long queues in the village of Bandara, north-east of the capital, Colombo, in December to obtain the syrup, just days after Ms Wanniarachchi and several other government officials publicly consumed it.
The maker of the potion said he got the formula through his divine powers.
In local media, he claimed the Hindu goddess Kaali appeared to him in a dream and gave him the recipe to save humanity from coronavirus.
Sri Lankans are used to taking both regular medicine and indigenous alternative drugs to cure ailments.
On Friday, Sri Lanka approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid-19 amid warnings from doctors that frontline health workers should be quickly inoculated to prevent the medical system from collapsing. The vaccine was the first to be approved for emergency use in Sri Lanka.
The Health Ministry said vaccination will begin by mid-February.
Sri Lanka witnessed a fresh outbreak of the disease in October when two clusters — one centred on a garment factory and the other on the main fish market – emerged in Colombo and its suburbs.
The country has reported 52,964 cases, with 278 deaths.