Thailand bars Songkran festival water fights again due to pandemic

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s COVID-19 task force said on Friday it will ban for a second year the street water fights that usually take place during celebrations for the upcoming Thai New Year due to the pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask counts money to paid worker fee at a market in Songkran holiday which marks the Thai New Year during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bangkok, Thailand, April 15, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The Songkran festival takes place from April 13 to 15 and in a normal year crowds pack the streets, spraying water guns or flinging water from pick-up trucks in what has been described as the world’s biggest water fight.

“Water splashing will not happen this Songkran. We must ask you to cooperate with us,” Taweesin Wisanuyothin, a spokesman for Thailand’s COVID-19 taskforce, told a briefing.

He said foam parties would also be banned, though a tradition of pouring water over the hands of older people, religious activities and travel between provinces to visit relatives would be allowed.

Thailand has been relatively successful in controlling coronavirus infections, with a new wave of infections in the first two months of the year now levelling off and after recording 88 deaths.

But the country’s strict border controls have decimated its vital tourism industry, with revenues dropping over 80% as visitor numbers plunged from 40 million visitors in 2019 to 6.7 million last year.

A global vaccine rollout has given hope that tourism can be revived and Taweesin gave more details on Friday on a plan to relax strict quarantine rules starting April 1.

Mandatory quarantine would be cut from 14 to 10 days for general arrivals and halved for those who were vaccinated, he said.

Unvaccinated foreigners will still be required to show a negative COVID-19 test result, while Thai citizens will no longer need to do so.

To qualify for the vaccinated group, all visitors must get a shot within three months of travel and present a certificate as proof.

Taweesin added that those traveling from countries where there are COVID-19 mutations will still need to undergo quarantine for 14 days.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Ed Davies