The minister’s remarks came as Bangkok’s communicable disease control committee is set to meet later today (Mar 29) to consider whether or not to allow water-splashing celebrations at the capital’s tourist hotspot over the Thai New Year festival, as was requested by business operators in the area.
The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) had earlier banned water-splashing and other celebrations associated with the holiday - including powder-smearing - as such activities are deemed to increase the risk of contracting COVID-19, reports the Bangkok Post.
The move prompted businesses along Khao San Road, and other cities such as Chiang Mai, Phuket and Pattaya to jointly petition the government to reconsider.
Sa-nga Ruangwatthanakul, president of the Association of Business Operators on Khao San Road, said revellers are expected to spend between B50-80 million over the four-day holiday if authorities lifts the ban on water-splashing. Bangkok’s communicable disease control committee was supposed to consider the petition yesterday but postponed its meeting until today.
Anutin said the ban on water-splashing is necessary to reduce the risk of contagion.
“This year, other social activities aren’t prohibited, so please be patient for another year,” he said.
“We are preparing to classify COVID-19 as an endemic disease, so we need to have the cooperation of all stakeholders.”
Public health officials had previously warned that new infections could reach 100,000 per day unless precautions are taken during the festival.
The public health minister also called on those who plan to visit their families during the Songkran holiday to exercise extreme caution and avoid risky activities at least one week before travel to help keep their families, especially the elderly, safe from the virus.
Suthat Chottanapund, director of the Institute of Urban Disease Control and Prevention and a member of Bangkok’s communicable disease control committee, said it is highly likely that water splashing will not be allowed as it is considered a risky activity.
“However, the committee is likely to announce the easing of more restrictions, including alcohol consumption in SHA Plus venues,” he said, noting group outings still aren’t recommended.
Dr Suthat said from Jan 1 to March 27, Bangkok saw 445 deaths from COVID-19, most of whom were elderly people with chronic health conditions. Some 75% of those who died, he noted, weren’t vaccinated or didn’t complete their COVID vaccination regime.
He urged individuals in at-risk groups to get their booster shot as soon as they can.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Public Health reported 81 more COVID-19 fatalities and 24,635 confirmed cases over the previous 24 hours.
The latest figures did not include 14,200 positive results from antigen tests.
The victims’ ages ranged from nine months to 94 years, according to the ministry.
Bangkok had the most new cases with 3,248, followed by 1,390 in Chon Buri, 1,328 in Nakhon Si Thammarat, 973 in Songkhla, 872 in Samut Sakhon, and 865 in Samut Prakan.