Mon State MPs Urge Govt: Ban Pilgrimages to Myanmar’s Golden Rock Over COVID-19

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 17 March 2020

YANGON—The Mon State parliament has urged their state government to ban tours to Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda, a well-known pilgrimage site in Kyaikto Town, over concerns about the spread of COVID-19. The Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda is also known as the Golden Rock, as it sits on top of a famous gold-colored boulder.

When the site is open, around 10,000 pilgrims, including tourists, visit the pagoda daily and an estimated 2 million people visit annually. The mountaintop area around the pagoda is normally crowded with pilgrims on weekends.

In Myanmar, cinemas and nursery schools have been closed indefinitely and religious festivals have been postponed or canceled following an announcement by the Myanmar President Office on Friday. The office postponed ceremonies and festivals, including the Thingyan water festival, until April 30 in an effort to reduce large gatherings and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

However, Mon State Chief Minister Dr. Aye Zan told the media on Saturday that the state government will not ban pilgrims and visitors from Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda, as it is a religious issue.

The Mon State parliament then held a meeting on Monday to discuss the issue, according to U Zaw Zaw Htoo, a member of the Mon parliament for the constituency of Paung Township.

U Zaw Zaw Htoo said that the Mon parliament sent a letter on Monday to the state government urging them to suspend pilgrimage tours to the pagoda.

“It is the time to restrict gatherings. We believe these pilgrimage tours to the pagoda should be banned absolutely. The state government shouldn’t take the risk,” U Zaw Zaw Htoo told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

He also said that banning public gatherings such as these crowded pilgrimage tours is the best way to stop the COVID-19 outbreak since Myanmar doesn’t have strong enough healthcare systems to combat the pandemic.

Mon State parliament Vice Chairman Dr. Aung Naing Oo told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the state government should obey the instructions of the Myanmar President Office and comply with the directive to stop holding public gatherings, festivities and ceremonies.

The Irrawaddy reached out to Mon State government ministers on Tuesday but they declined to comment on the issue of the Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda. The Union Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture also declined to comment.

Another famous religious festival in Myanmar, the Shwe Set Taw Pagoda Festival in Magway Region, normally held from January through the end of April, was cancelled on Friday because of the order from the Myanmar President Office.

The global death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic reached over 6,500 on Monday, with more than 170,000 confirmed cases since December.

Despite this, Myanmar has some COVID-19 suspected patients but no one has tested positive for the virus.

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