During Easter Sunday last year, bombings during mass in churches in three cities across Sri Lanka and blasts in five-star hotels killed 259 persons and injured at least 500. The terror attack was co-ordinated by a local affiliate of the Islamic State, the National Thowheeth Jamaat, which claimed that the killings were in retaliation to the gunning down of 51 persons during Friday prayers in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March. The incident led to a wave of attacks on Muslims in the island nation, and strengthened existing prejudices against the community. Anti-Muslim politics has a long history in Sri Lanka, with the community having had to face abuse and exclusion from the Sinhalese majority as well as Tamils in northern and eastern parts of the country. The violence and subsequent polarisation threatened to derail Sri Lanka’s tourism sector, which had been rebuilding itself from the wreckage of three decades of civil war.
People will have to remember and mourn their loss privately as attendance in churches is severely curtailed in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic. The many wounds in Sri Lanka’s multi-ethnic society have been slow to heal. But its economy, especially tourism, had sidestepped the social faultlines, and had started to attract tourists and investors. All that looks a distant prospect now in the wake of the epidemic. It will take a while before tourism becomes a viable business again. Remittances, too, are likely to dry up since the economies in West Asia, where a lot of Sri Lankans work, have been hit hard by COVID.
The COVID spread has so far been limited in Sri Lanka, with 190 cases of infection and seven deaths as on April 9. However, India, Europe, and China, three regions that supply the maximum number of tourists to Sri Lanka, have been greatly affected. As the country mourns the victims of the Easter bombings and sets out on a path of healing, the process has got even more arduous.
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