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Coronavirus hits South Asia travel as Sri Lanka halts pilgrimages to India

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has halted religious pilgrimages to India as part of novel Coronavirus control measures the state information office said, expanding the impact of the epidemic in South Asia to intra regional travel.

Instructions have been given to halt pilgrimages to Buddhist, Hindu and Catholic shrines to India, the statement said quoting the secretary of Buddhist Affairs Ministry Bandula Harishchandra.

Sri Lanka was the fourth largest source of foreign visitors to India in 2018 the most recent data available for a full year, after the UK, US and Bangladesh. Pilgrimages are a key reason for Sri Lankans to visit India. Many older citizens visit religious sites.

In 2018, 352,684 Sri Lankans travelled to India.

India is Sri Lanka’s top source of foreign visitors with 355,002 arrivals in 2019.

Sri Lanka has already restricted the arrival of Chinese tourists to the island and SriLankan Airlines said it is stopping remaining flights as Chinese visitors dropped 92 percent in February. Maldives said it had halted all flights from Italy as the country became a virus hotspot.

However Indian visitors to Sri Lanka grew in February.

Pilgrimages are a key source of intra-South Asian travel.

Sri Lankans visit key Buddhist shrines such as Bodhgaya and places associated with the life of Lord Buddha. Others also visit key Hindu shrines to get blessings.

The Mahabodi Temple Complex in Gaya is a UNESCO World Heritage site and Buddhist believes Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. Other key places include Kushinagar, where the Buddha is believed to have achieved Parinirvana or death.

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Sri Lankan Catholics visit shrines of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, and other ancient catholic churches whose origins date back to the first century AD.

The churches resisted incorporation when the Portuguese arrived in India. Syro-Malabar Catholic Church established links to Catholic Church in Vatican in 1930 but retains autonomy. (Colombo/Mar11/2020

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