Mon State Govt Calls Off Festival at Kyaiktiyo Pagoda Over Coronavirus Fears

Friday, March 20, 2020

With the aim of preventing the spread of the coronavirus, the Mon State government has announced that it is canceling an ongoing festival at the famous Kyaiktiyo pagoda on Saturday.

The decision was made during government meeting on March 17, following a recommendation from state parliament one day earlier. The period for the annual pilgrimage to Kyaiktiyo—also known as the ‘golden rock pagoda’—is between the full moon days of Thadingyut in October and Kason in May. But this period has now been cut short because of the spreading Covid-19 virus.

“We decided to shut down the festival at the pagoda on March 21. All shops and restaurants around the pagoda will also be shut down,” director of the state government Myint Than Win said. “If pilgrims want to see the pagoda, they can go there by themselves. But there will be no tram [up the mountain] for pilgrims.”

Deputy speaker of the Mon State parliament Dr. Aung Naing Oo suggested that the coronavirus—which has no confirmed cases in Burma—could “start from” Mon State.

“Foreigners visit Kyaiktiyo pagoda,” he said. “Some tourists come from border entry points. So we don’t want to see the coronavirus outbreak start from Mon State. That’s why we decided to close it.”

Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs suspended land border crossings by foreigners on Thursday to “prevent the importation and spread of COVID-19.”

Human rights advocates and international health professionals have questioned the Burmese government’s reports that there are no cases of the coronavirus in the country, instead pointing to the lack of health infrastructure and testing technology that are necessary to determine the presence and impact of the virus.

According to Kyaiktiyo’s trustees, nearly 5,000 visitors come to the pagoda annually, but the numbers have dropped dramatically this week.

The Burmese government has also canceled public commemoration of the traditional water festival Thingyan, held in mid-April.