Amid virus surge, Lankan Health Minister replaced

Keheliya Rambukwella to take charge

August 16, 2021 10:47 pm | Updated 11:56 pm IST - COLOMBO

Mr. Keheliya Rambukwella

Mr. Keheliya Rambukwella

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on August 16 replaced the country’s Health Minister in the wake of growing opposition and public criticism over the government’s “mismanagement” of the country’s fourth wave of COVID-19.

Sri Lanka’s Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, who earlier made headlines for endorsing a “potion” that she claimed would “cure” COVID-19, has now been given charge of the Transport Ministry, while Media Minister and Cabinet Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella will be the new Health Minister, according to a statement issued by the Presidential Media Division.

Over the past week, health authorities reported over 3,000 cases a day and record daily deaths – 161 on August 14 – that they attribute to the rapidly spreading Delta variant. Despite medical professionals’ repeated calls for a country-wide lockdown to help the health sector cope, the government has minimally restricted mobility, mostly during the night. President Rajapaksa has asked health sector officials to expedite the ongoing vaccination drive.

Education Minister G.L. Peiris and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena will swap roles. Mr. Peiris returns to the Foreign Ministry after six years. He held the post during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term in office from 2010 to 2015, when Sri Lanka was under heightened international scrutiny over alleged war crimes. His appointment comes at a time when Sri Lanka faces pressure at the UN Human Rights Council over its rights record and promises on post-war reconciliation, also cited by the European Parliament in June, while recommending a temporary withdrawal of the GSP+ status given to Sri Lanka. In Monday’s reshuffle, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa gave additional responsibilities to his nephew Namal Rajapaksa, the fifth member of the Rajapaksa clan in the Cabinet.

Namal Rajapaksa, son of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and currently Cabinet Minister for Youth and Sports, has been awarded a new Cabinet portfolio – Development Planning and Monitoring. He is also the State Minister of Digital Technology and Enterprise Development.

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