Thailand Marks New Year without Traditional Water Festival

Jittima Lukboon, Panumas Sanguanwong and Patipat Janthong

A woman sprinkles water and petals on a novice following the Buddhist Songkran tradition at Wat Arun Ratchawararam, or the Temple of Dawn, in Bangkok, April 13, 2021. [Panumas Sanguanwong/BenarNews]


Buddhists practice social distancing as they make donations in the main hall at Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) in Bangkok, April 13, 2021. [Jittima Lukboon/BenarNews]


Celebrants sprinkle water on a statue of the Buddha at Wat Arun Ratchawararam in Bangkok, April 13, 2021. [Panumas Sanguanwong/BenarNews]


Culture Minister Ittipol Khunpleum gives alms to a monk at Wat Arun Ratchawararam in Bangkok, April 13, 2021. [Panumas Sanguanwong/BenarNews]


A monk practices social distancing while blessing a family by sprinkling holy water at Wat Pho in Bangkok, April 13, 2021. [Jittima Lukboon/BenarNews]


A man stands on Bangkok’s Khaosan Road, which is normally packed with tourists during Songkran, April 13, 2021. [Patipat Janthong/BenarNews]

For a second straight year, Thailand rang in the Thai New Year’s festival known here as Songkran, but without the traditional water-splashing, parties or concerts, as the country faces a new wave in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Celebrants in the predominantly Buddhist nation focused instead on making merits to observe the three-day holiday, which kicked off on Tuesday.

In the morning, followers offered alms and later sprinkled water to show respect to Buddhist monks, who wore plastic face shields as a pandemic precaution.

Culture Minister Ittipol Khunpleum led officials and celebrants in what was called a “New Normal, Preserving Thai Culture” event at Wat Arun Ratchawararam. The temple, a major tourist destination in Bangkok, was open while others were partially closed because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, destinations in the Thai capital that normally host water festivals to attract thousands of back-packing tourists, including Khaosan and Silom roads, faced yet another dry season.

Dr. Opas Kankawinpong, the Disease Control Department director-general, warned that COVID-19 infections could shoot up 10-fold starting in May unless the government implements urgent measures to control new cases. New infections topped 900 for three days in a row, according to health data.

“If we don’t do it right, in the next one month the spread will spin out of control – 9,000 new infections a day,” he said on Tuesday.

Throughout Thailand, the government began shuttering night spots on April 6 in at least 41 of 77 provinces for two weeks, after a new wave of COVID-19 gripped the nation earlier this month.

In the United States, Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement wishing the people of Thailand “good health and happiness on the occasion of Songkran.”

“The United States of America is proud to recognize Thailand as one of our strongest and most enduring allies,” he said in the statement issued on Monday. “We look forward to deepening our friendship with the Kingdom of Thailand even further.”


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