Officials and passengers wear face masks at Bandaranaike International Airport in Sri Lanka. (Photo: AFP)
Sri Lankan religious leaders have organized services with prayers to protect coronavirus patients as the number of infections around the world continues to climb.
Sri Lanka has confirmed its first case of coronavirus, a 43-year-old Chinese woman from Hubei province who arrived in the country as a tourist.
Some 33 Sri Lankan students who were living in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus, were brought home on Feb. 1. They were taken to Diyatalawa Army Hospital where they will be kept until the middle of the month.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo has asked communities to protect themselves adequately and to help anyone afflicted with the illness.
"It is important to be ready, if the disease reaches a serious level, to be able to have a moratorium on organizing large festive gatherings and events in schools such as sports meets and big matches,” said Cardinal Ranjith in a notice to priests, brothers and nuns on Feb. 2.
He called for people to organize special prayer campaigns calling for the protection of Sri Lanka from the ravages of this epidemic.
Buddhist clergy organized a special lamp offering at Kelaniya Temple on Feb. 1.
"We held this religious observance to bring relief and comfort to those affected with the coronavirus," said Ven. Banagala Upatissa Thera, chairman of the Mahabodhi Society.
Cardinal Ranjith, the Church's representative on the Congress of Religions, a multifaith body representing senior prelates of all four major religions, said in a press conference on Jan. 28 that Sri Lanka should not ban Chinese entering the country or isolate China.
“We should not isolate anybody just because of a disease,” he said, adding that the country should not panic over the viral outbreak. “Certain countries have taken measures to protect their citizens. Sri Lanka should go to that extreme only if it cannot control the situation.”
The cardinal said Sri Lanka and China have maintained close ties for centuries. “We should work for safety of the nation but we should not create a rift with other countries. We believe this is not intentional but it is a health situation,” he said.
Ven. Ittapane Dhamalankara Thera, chairman of the Congress of Religions, said it is suspected that certain dietary habits, especially the consumption of certain animals, have been linked to the origin of this disease.
“China was once a Buddhist country and I wonder where this habit of eating various animals started,” he said.
Religious leaders have also called on people to avoid public gatherings and urged public events to be cancelled or postponed until the disease has been brought under control.
A special passenger terminal has been set up at Bandaranaike international Airport to check all passengers arriving in Sri Lanka. Four scanners have been installed to identify possible carriers of the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, a national action committee has been appointed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Sri Lanka.