Sri Lanka axes health minister over Covid misinformation as outbreak grows

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Sri Lanka is battling a coronavirus surge, with infections and deaths hitting record highs
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Sri Lanka's president on Monday demoted the health minister who publicly endorsed sorcery and magic potions to battle Covid-19, as coronavirus infections and deaths hit record highs.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's office said Pavithra Wanniarachchi's health portfolio had been given to Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella who is also the government spokesman.

Wanniarachchi was in intensive care in January after contracting the virus despite publicly consuming and endorsing a "magic potion" against Covid-19 made by a sorcerer.

She also poured a pot of "blessed" water into a river in November after a self-styled god-man told her that it would end the pandemic in the island nation of 21 million people.

Sri Lanka's health ministry under Wanniarachchi came under intense criticism last week for understating coronavirus infections.

Despite the demotion, she will remain in the cabinet -- the president gave her the less important transport ministry.

The number of daily virus deaths crossed 150 in the past week, overwhelming crematoriums.

Daily infections crossed 3,000, and with hospitals struggling to cope, even government health workers say the actual number of infections could be three times higher.

The government has so far rejected calls for a lockdown to contain the surge, but last week tightened restrictions.

Wedding and parties have been banned from Tuesday, while state ceremonies and public gatherings are also prohibited until September 1.

Shops, restaurants and officers will have to follow a night curfew from Monday.

In the cabinet reshuffle, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and Education Minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris swapped their portfolios.

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