A self-styled Sri Lankan holy man’s supposed miracle potion to prevent COVID-19 has turned sour after a minister who publicly drank it was hospitalised with the virus.
Thousands defied public gathering restrictions to swamp a village in central Sri Lanka last month to get the syrup made by Dhammika Bandara.
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Women and Child Development Minister Piyal Nishantha de Silva was among several politicians who consumed the concoction, but parliamentary officials on Tuesday said he had since tested positive for coronavirus and taken to a treatment centre.
Family members of another politician, who hailed from Bandara’s village, had also been infected despite taking the syrup.
Pro-government media gave widespread publicity to Bandara who claimed the formula was revealed to him by Kali, a Hindu goddess of death and destruction.
The drink contained honey, nutmeg, coriander and other herbs and was available for the equivalent of $13 a bottle.
Herbal remedies are widely available in Sri Lanka, and at least 15,000 people turned up at the man’s home over four days of sales in December, a local official said.
The holy businessman had also sold his miracle cure to companies as well as temples, local media reported.
He had also given a sample to politicians and ministers. Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi also took the potion, according to DPA news agency, although her own ministry had not approved it as a medicine.
She was criticised by opposition legislators for spreading false hope and encouraging people to go to the holy man en masse.
The government has scrambled to distance itself from Bandara, whose preparation was approved as a food supplement by the official indigenous medicine unit.
“Although some parliamentarians took it, the government does not endorse it,” said Keheliya Rambukwella, minister of mass media.
Sri Lanka is in the grip of a coronavirus surge, with the number of cases and deaths going from 3,300 and 13 in early October to 53,750 infections and 270 dead now.