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Sri Lanka shuffles senior health official after Rajapaksa reveals wrong COVID-19 death figures

A senior health official in Sri Lanka has been transferred after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressed his unhappiness over not being able to ease the COVID-19 restrictions in the country on June 14 due to presentation of wrong data that showed a spike in the number of deaths from the virus.

Addressing the health officials on Friday to announce the easing of travel restrictions from June 21 till June 25, Rajapaksa said he was planning to lift the lockdown on June 14 but could not do so due to the presentation of wrong data on COVID-19 deaths.

In what is being seen as a fall out of the President’s comments, chief epidemiologist Sudath Samaraweera, who was holding the position of the Director of the Epidemiology Unit in the health ministry since the onset of the pandemic in the country in March 2020, has now been transferred as the head of the dengue fever prevention unit.

Finding fault with the compilation of the daily COVID-19 death figures, Rajapaksa said that his decision to ease travel restrictions was affected by what he called wrong data.

I was to open the country on June 14. But on the 11th, suddenly they said 101 had died. So everyone got scared. I told the intelligence services to go house to house and verify this figure, Rajapaksa told health officials.

The President said that health authorities and intelligence unit after a thorough investigation conducted into the cause of deaths revealed that some of the deaths occurred during a four-month period from February 6 to June 11 and certain deaths had been mentioned twice, according to a report in Colombo Gazette.

Rajapaksa said that only 15 COVID-19 deaths had occurred on June 11 instead of 101.

Sri Lanka has seen a massive jump in the number of COVID-19 infections since April 15. The number of cases has gone up by nearly 150,000 and the death toll by over 1,700.

By Friday night, the total number of cases in the country stood at 235,413 with only over 35,000 of them currently under treatment. The death toll is 2,480.

Lockdown in the form of travel restrictions was imposed in the country since late April.

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