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Sri Lanka cancels major Buddhist, Muslim festivals

Religious celebrations are called off as the country reels from a third wave of the coronavirus outbreak

UCA News reporter, Colombo

UCA News reporter, Colombo

Published: May 14, 2021 03:13 AM GMT

Updated: May 14, 2021 03:35 AM GMT

Sri Lanka cancels major Buddhist, Muslim festivals

A man waits to board a train as the Sri Lankan government imposed travel restrictions and a weekend lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Colombo on May 13. (Photo: AFP)

Sri Lanka has canceled major religious festivals and the government has imposed countrywide travel restrictions to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, and Vesak, the main Buddhist festival, have been called off.

The government decided to impose island-wide travel restrictions from 11pm on May 13 to May 17 due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases and deaths as the country faces a third wave of the contagion.

The Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department has suspended all congregational activities and prayers in mosques from May 14. Eid celebrations can take place only in homes.

General Shavendra Silva, head of the National Operation Centre for Prevention of Covid-19 Outbreak, said during this period only essential services and the vaccination program will be permitted.

Silva said people will not be allowed to leave their homes and all businesses including restaurants will shut down. "Medical workers and those involved in essential services can travel," he said.

The faithful can make lanterns and make decorations in their homes to avoid gatherings

The decision came amid the rapid spread of the coronavirus, with Sri Lanka reporting a total of 133,527 cases with 850 deaths. There were 149 deaths over the last 10 days.

The Vesak festival — when Buddhists commemorate the birth, enlightenment and death of Lord Buddha — has been suspended because of the pandemic situation.

“Due to the pandemic Christians could not celebrate Easter Sunday, Muslims cannot mark Eid al-Fitr and even Buddhists will not celebrate Vesak,” said Christian teacher Rasika Nuwani, who joined with Buddhists to organize dansal (alms giving).

Churches have once again halted services, church weddings and Sunday schools. Church-run universities, institutions and schools have closed until further notice.

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A Catholic nun said the government will suspend all congregational activities like last year.

"The faithful can make lanterns and make decorations in their homes to avoid gatherings," said the nun, who wished to remain anonymous.

The Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA) has warned that the number of people requiring oxygen and those waiting for intensive care treatment was rapidly rising.

The SLMA statement said there may be a possible breakdown in the healthcare system if the current surge was left unchecked, noting that many diagnosed cases remained in their homes awaiting admission to hospital.

"The deaths may reach unprecedented levels and a grave national catastrophe is a real potential threat in the near future unless something that offers rapid results is implemented," said the SLMA statement.

Funerals have been limited to 15 people at a time and arrangements must be made within 24 hours of the death.

The government has ordered 21,000 oxygen cylinders for emergency use for Covid patients. Several temporary treatment centers have set up for patients. The country has received 1,265,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine.

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