COVID-19 hits Bihar’s Buddhist tourist circuit

Steep drop in tourist footfalls from Asian Buddhist countries registered due to panic over virus

By C K Manoj
Published: Thursday 12 March 2020

The Buddhist tourist circuit in Bihar is the latest victim of the deadly novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Air India international weekly flight from Yangon in Myanmar landed at the Gaya airport on March 11, 2020, with no passengers, airport officials said. Only the 13-member crew was aboard the flight.

The flight operates on the Yangon-Gaya-Delhi route. March 11 was also the day the World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 a pandemic.

“While no passenger from Yangon landed at the Gaya airport, none of the 120 passengers who had booked their tickets for Yangon reported for the flight. So the aircraft returned empty too,” Gaya airport director Dilip Kumar said.

“In my whole career, I haven’t come across such a situation till now,” Kumar told Down To Earth. According to him, on an average, 400 tourists would land at the Gaya airport every day. But in the aftermath of the panic about coronavirus, only about 50 passengers are coming.

The prevailing panic has destroyed the tourism industry this year, with few or no foreign tourists being seen at Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha got enlightenment.

“We are rueing our fate this time as several tourist groups who were set to visit the Buddhist circuit, have cancelled their bookings owing to corona panic,” a tour operator Arun Kumar Ojha said.

He said prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests across India had already registered a sharp fall in the number of foreign tourists. Several Buddhist countries including Thailand, Myanmar, Korea, Japan and Sri Lanka had issued advisories to their citizens, asking them to postpone their visits for the time being.

According to a report of the Bihar tourism department, more than one million foreign tourists have been visiting Bihar every year. Last year, a total of 3,5083,179 tourists visited Bihar, of which, 1,093,141 were foreigners.

In 2018, a total of 34,709,584 tourists had visited Bihar. Of them, 1,087,971 were foreign nationals.

A report of the State Health Society Bihar said a total of 144 passengers who had returned from coronavirus-affected countries after January 15, 2020, had been identified by the state surveillance system and kept under home quarantine.

The state health control room / helpline number was functioning around the clock and queries of people were being addressed.

The report added the authorities were keeping a close watch on six Buddhist spots that attract a large number of tourists from Buddhist countries every year. “However, no symptomatic passengers have been reported from the Buddhist monasteries so far,” the report added.

Authorities said they had identified four medical colleges and two hospitals in Patna for establishing quarantine facilities for the COVID-19 outbreak. 

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