ECONOMYNEXT – The government should be deeply ashamed by the fact that the so-called miracle cure for Covid produced by a Shaman assiduously trumpeted by its tame media and endorsed by the Minister of Health has failed spectacularly.
The Minister, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, and her colleague the State Minister for Women’s and Children’s Affairs Piyal Nishantha de Silva who consumed the concoction for the cameras have tested positive for Covid 19 and are under treatment.
Wanniarachchi was found positive from an Antigen test and a subsequent PCR test confirmed the diagnosis, her Media Secretary Viraj Abyesinghe told EconomyNext.
This government which successfully practices the art of governance by distraction promoted the potion produced by a medically untrained Shaman of the Goddess Kali, “guaranteed” to protect us from Covid 19, even as the second wave engulfed the country.
For a government which went into the General Elections under the banner of an administration that had “beaten Covid” the huge second wave that has now swept through the country, increasing infection rates and causing deaths, has been a setback.
There was false confidence given to Sri Lankans that Covid is “over” and that our brilliant leadership had done better than everybody in the world and quashed the dreaded bug. The people were happy, and many ignored health officials’ warnings that the danger is far from over.
We were mentally unprepared for the second wave despite the fact that almost every other country including star performers such as New Zealand, Singapore and Germany had seen a resurgence of the virus.
The magic potion revealed by a Goddess whose avatar is a Shaman was an important bit of psychological warfare to blunt criticism and give hope to the general population as the infections spreading in the apparel factories and thereafter at the Peliyagoda fish market alarming the population.
From the beginning the very idea that there was a potion that could cure people of the Covid 19 disease was absurd as there is no way a virus can be killed by medicine; viruses can only be suppressed by antiretroviral drugs as in the case of HIV.
Ministers take the potion for the cameras
But the potion invented by the Custodian of the Kali Amman Kovil in Hettimulla, Dhammika Bandara was popularized as a cure for Covid, when the Health Minister, the Speaker and parliamentarians of the government side were seen drinking it, thus endorsing the syrup.
Pro-government media, primarily Adaderana TV, which did a lengthy soft interview with Bandara, led the coverage of the “miracle cure.”
The interviewers allowed Bandara to get away with statements such as “three doses of my potion will immunize you from Covid for the rest of your life” and “this medicine was revealed to me by Kali to save the world from Covid.”
Prominent Ministers, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene and Indigenous Medicine Minister Sisira Jayakody are among the government politicos who quaffed the cure for the cameras.
Politicians particularly those in the South Asian region have hides so thick that it is unlikely that Wanniarachchi will resign her post, or her boss President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will ask her to go despite this incident causing her to lose all credibility at a time of a pandemic.
As the National People Power Leader Parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake said, the Minister when presented with a new medicine should have handed it over to the relevant scientists and experts for analysis and called for a report.
“Instead she drank it. Then next time someone brings a dose of poison she might drink that as well,” he told Parliament on January 20.
Dissanayake said he does not wish the disease on anybody and hopes the Minister recovers and is well again “but I am happy that someone who drank this potion did contract the disease.”
Crowds throng the Shaman’s village for the free potion
As the media showed, crowds mobbed the home of the Shaman, ignoring all health guidelines, with hopes of getting themselves a bottle of the magic cure, confident it would save them from the virus.
Thousands of people lined up overnight, many sleeping in their cars, to obtain the potion when Bandara invited them to his temple for a free hand out, more than a month ago.
This was a super-spreader event that deeply worried the authorities and finally, police were compelled to disperse the crowd. The police officers who responded should be commended as they literally risked their lives trying to persuade the crowds to leave.
Local health officials, particularly the Public Health Inspectors who spoke with us at the time, raised concerns that locals who had consumed the potion were moving about without masks and not observing social distancing, putting themselves and others at risk of infection.
Senior officials of our much-vaunted Health Service have maintained a studied silence although some leaders of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) warned against it.
While many people in the world believe in Gods, unseen deities, and pray for the betterment of the world and their health, that kind of faith itself does no harm either to themselves or society. Others have faith in various temples or blessed water.
But the concoction promoted by the government poses two dangers, health experts pointed out to us.
They said firstly the ingredients are not known and may be harmful and the other is that gives a false sense of security making people drop their guard against the virus.
Social Media users have not been kind to the Health Minister gleefully making fun of her and the government.
Her colleague, the State Minister in charge of battling the coronavirus pandemic Dr Sudarshani Fernandopulle, rose to Wanniarachchi’s defence saying the virus does not care who the person is and of what ethnicity or gender a victim is.
She said the Health Minister was being treated unfairly by Social Media users who trashed her for consuming the potion and then becoming a victim.
That is generous of her. After all, she must stand with her colleague in arms!
To be fair Fernandopulle, a medical doctor by training did not endorse the concoction.
But, when the pandemic first hit our shores, and when various communities such as the Muslims, drug users, and later garment factory workers etc. were being maligned by some health officials, and particularly the media, Fernandopulle failed to speak up for them.
What of Bandara? The Shaman, who was at a Police station in Kegalle trying to settle a matter between him and a medical doctor from the Peradeniya Hospital who had complained that the former mason had assaulted him spoke with media on Tuesday, January 26.
He told reporters that he had indeed given his potion to the Minister. “She consumed it when I was there, but I do not know whether she followed up with the proper dosage thereafter. If she had done as instructed she would never have been infected.”
Bandara, who wants reporters and others to refer to him as “the Mother” as he proclaims himself as an avatar of the Goddess Kali, slipped up when he encountered the Chief Priest of the Eight Sacred Sites of Anuradhapura several weeks ago.
After he was not permitted to enter the holy of holies the upper chamber at the Sri Maha Bodhi he returned to the residence of the Chief Priest, the Atamasthanadhipathy Dr Pallegama Sirinivasa Thero and berated him for not being allowed to enter the upper chamber and offer his potion to the Holy Bodhi tree.
“I have created this medicine to save the world. But you have not allowed me to enter the upper chamber. Don’t you know I am Kali, I am your Mother!” the Shaman said in a loud voice.
Sirinivasa Nayaka Thero won many admirers for his composure during the very uncomfortable incident. Bandara later said he did not know what happened to him and would not have behaved in that manner normally.
That clip was edited out by pro-government TV channels Hiru, Adaderana, Rupavahini and ITN but Swarnavahini and Newsfirst aired the sequence.
Sri Lanka’s politicians, as we know, are masters in the game of distraction. Just a small psychological operation is all that is needed to sway a gullible public.
For instance, just when Premalal Jayasekara, the convicted murderer was being sworn in as a government MP, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa announced a ban on cattle slaughter. An emotional issue close to the hearts of the majority Buddhists and Hindus in the country, this statement served to change the conversation and Jayasekara, also known as Choka Malli, was duly sworn in.
Well-timed and now we have a murder convict writing and voting on our laws!
Meanwhile, the cattle slaughter ban has been forgotten along with the LKR1,000 per day guaranteed pay for plantation workers and a myriad other election promises.
But in the case of Covid prevention promoting an unscientific untested potion as a cure was irresponsible, and it is poetic justice that the leadership, the Health Minister no less caught the virus.
(Colombo, January 27, 2021)
By Arjuna Ranawana