Songkran rules in works

Songkran rules in works

Water fights pose high risk of infection

People pour blessed water into a vessel as a way to make merit at the Kwan Riam market along Saen Saep canal in Min Buri district, Bangkok, during the Songkran festival in April last year.(Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
People pour blessed water into a vessel as a way to make merit at the Kwan Riam market along Saen Saep canal in Min Buri district, Bangkok, during the Songkran festival in April last year.(Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

The government will meet on Friday to deliberate ways to curb the spread of Covid-19 during the Songkran holiday period, which includes a proposed ban on water-splashing.

The ban was among ideas proposed by the Public Health Ministry on Thursday at a meeting chaired by the secretary-general of the National Security Council and chief of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) operations centre, Gen Supoj Malaniyom.

CCSA will be asked to allow Songkran celebrations to be held in line with health precautions and guidelines, which are due to be unveiled by the Public Health Ministry, Culture Ministry and Tourism and Sports Ministry at the meeting.

Under the proposal, traditional activities -- such as merit-making, and the rod nam dam hua ceremony (pouring water on respected relatives' hands) -- will only be allowed to take place in special areas under strict disease-control measures, he said.

The proposal goes against the recommendations made by Somsak Akkasilp, director-general of the Medical Services Department, who had previously urged people who planned to return to their hometowns during the upcoming Thai New Year holiday to avoid taking part in the rod nam dam hua tradition to reduce the risk of any infections among elderly family members.

The department advises well-wishers to stay one metre away from their relatives and bow instead, Dr Somsak said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Ministry Anutin Charnvirakul said that the Disease Control Department will also propose its own set of precautions and measures at the CCSA meeting.

When asked about the government's plan to allow night entertainment venues to reopen nationwide, Gen Supoj said the government has to consider the matter carefully because such venues pose a high Covid-19 infection risk.

He said the CCSA will also consider a proposal from the Public Health Ministry to ease certain pre-travel requirements.

Under the proposed entry rules, travellers under the Test & Go scheme would no longer be required to show negative RT-PCR test results which were taken up to 72 hours before their departure.

Kiattiphum Wongrajit, permanent secretary for the Public Health Ministry, had earlier announced that travellers would only be required to take an RT-PCR test upon arrival and an antigen self-test on Day 5, while health insurance coverage for foreign visitors will be reduced from at least US$50,000 (1.6 million baht) to $20,000.

Asked if the emergency decree imposed to contain the spread of the virus will be lifted, Gen Supoj said the decree is still required to curb the spread of the virus.

When it is no longer needed, Gen Supoj said, he will propose the rule to be revoked immediately.

The nation will take a five-day break over the Songkran period this year, from April 13 to 17, and many people are expected to make the journey to their home provinces.

The government has said it won't impose a ban on travel this year. Instead, it will roll out a nationwide campaign from March 21-31 to give 70% of the nation's 12 million senior citizens a third jab, Dr Somsak said.

Supant Mongkolsuthree, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said that he will propose measures to prepare for the country's reopening at the CCSA's meeting on Friday.

They include the scrapping of the Test & Go scheme and the requirement for an RT-PCR test. Instead, travellers should only be required to show their vaccine passport or proof of being vaccinated before arrival in Thailand.



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