The Sikkim government on Thursday said it will close the ancient Nathu La crossing with China and called off this year’s Kailash Mansarovar Yatra in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Hindustan Times reported.

“Since China is the epicentre of the [coronavirus] outbreak, we will close the Nathu La trade route which is supposed to open on May 1,” BS Panth, Sikkim’s tourism and civil aviation minister, said. “The Kailash- Mansarovar Yatra is also not happening this year,” he added. “Very soon we will adopt a proposal and inform the Centre.” Under the Nathu La trade protocol, traders from Sikkim are allowed limited access to Tibet while Chinese traders are allowed a few kilometres into the Indian territory.

Panth said the state is also contemplating a ban on the entry of even domestic tourists till October. “If the situation improves we may rethink the issue,” he said. However the minister indicated that the ban on the entry of foreign tourists will continue.

The Nathu La trade route and Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra are two major revenue earners for Sikkim, which drew more than 12 lakh domestic tourists and 1,33,388 foreign visitors in 2019.

India and China had opened the 4,500-metre-high pass in 2006 to improve ties dogged by a bitter war in 1962 that saw the route closed for 44 years. The Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra, organised annually by the Ministry of External Affairs from the month of June to September, was reopened in 2015.

Sikkim has not reported any Covid-19 case so far and was among the first states to ban the entry of domestic and foreign tourists and migrant labourers. It also sealed the international borders with China, Nepal and Bhutan, and two out of the four border check posts with West Bengal.

The number of coronavirus cases in India jumped to 23,077 on Friday morning, but the Indian Council of Medical Research said at least 23,502 people have tested positive so far. The toll rose to 718, while the number of patients who have recovered stood at 4,748.

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