The Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) is planning to discuss the implementation of Covid-19 preventive measures for Songkran, the Thai New Year/Water Festival, and Thailand’s biggest holiday in April at its general meeting on March 18th.
Dr. Sumani Watcharasin of the CCSA revealed at the daily briefing yesterday, March 7th, that the government would like to ask for cooperation from families with the elderly, chronically-ill patients, and/or young children to receive full vaccination as there could be a lot of traveling and family gathering during Songkran which could be the risk of finding more infections.
Any restrictions on travel have already been ruled out, Sumani stated, and people will be allowed to visit family for the longest and biggest holiday of the year which will be at least five days in mid-April. Songkran, like Chinese New Year or Golden Week elsewhere, is the biggest migration of people internally yearly and Thailand’s most important festival.
Normally, however, the event is also accompanied by concerts, parades, festivals, beauty pageants, contests, religious, ceremonial, and, of course, world-famous water fights that attract tens of thousands to tourist areas. These are the issues that will be debated and discussed by the CCSA next week.
Songkran was completely canceled in 2020 due to Covid-19, including travel restrictions and alcohol sales bans, and only small religious and ceremonial events were allowed in 2021, although travel was allowed. Bars and entertainment venues were shuttered only days before Songkran last year due to concerns around parties and gatherings. Technically, they remain closed and are currently converted “restaurants”.
On Monday, the Department of Health had proposed preventive measures to control the Covid-19 spread during the 5-day Songkran holiday to the CCSA. The assessment of the Covid-19 infection risk must be conducted during the long weekend issue which normally includes several activities such as returning to hometowns, family gatherings, doing joint activities, pouring water onto elders’ hands, splashing water, powdering each other’s faces, etc.
Dr. Sumani declined to state exactly what the proposals were so far, noting that there were “many opinions” and “much debate”, especially in tourist zones with high vaccination rates that depend economically on Songkran celebrations and have been pushing for eased restrictions, such as Pattaya and Phuket.
Areas of high concern during Songkran include public transport terminals (of planes, vans, buses, etc.), gas stations, and resting points. And the high-risk places are homes, restaurants, religious places, places for gathering, tourist attractions, hotels, shopping malls, community malls, etc. Entertainment venues are still legally closed, the CCSA noted but converted “restaurants” that sell alcohol primarily were also a major concern.
The proposal, as stated previously, does not prohibit organizing or traveling across the provinces but the public must follow the ‘VUCA’ measures – Vaccine, Universal Prevention, Covid-Free Setting, Antigen Test Kit (ATK).
Six organizations and representatives from the Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Royal Thai Police, and the Ministry of Culture would also join the CCSA general meeting and measure discussion, chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O’Cha, next Friday, to finalize and debate/discuss Songkran rules.
TPN notes that decisions on Songkran have been delayed for weeks as Thailand faces continued high Covid-19 cases and an Omicron surge, but the vast majority of cases, 99.2 percent in Chonburi, are mild or asymptomatic. The Thai government is also well aware that after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and seeing many other countries fully opening the public is fatigued and a strict Songkran with many rules has a high chance of either not being followed or causing public anger.
Songkran also falls only a few weeks before critical elections for the Bangkok Governor and Pattaya Mayor, so decisions around the festival could influence elections as well.