The news comes following the decision last week to allow the annual festival to be held this year, from Oct 6-14.
The festival will begin with the raising of the ‘Go Teng’ poles being raised at participating shrines at sunset on Oct 5, allowing the Nine Emperor Gods to descend from the heavens. The festival will conclude with the lowering of the Go Teng poles on Oct 15.
Governor Narong announced yesterday (Sept 21) that the Phuket Communicable Disease Committee had worked with organisers at the participating shrines to create a raft of COVID prevention measures to address concerns that the festival will launch yet another spread of COVID-19 infections across the island.
“All ceremonies and functions performed at the shrines must be carried out under the conditions and preventive measures prescribed by the government to ensure that the activities are in order and not a source of the spread of the disease,” Governor Narong Said.
Under the conditions set out for the festival, only those directly involved are allowed to join the ceremonies practiced inside the shrines, and all D-M-H-T-T-A COVId prevention measures must be strictly observed.
All Ma Song spirit mediums and their assistants must be fully vaccinated with two injections of vaccine. They must also test negative for the virus by ATK (antigen test kits) before the start of the first day of the festival and test negative again Day 5 of the festival. Any persons who test positive must go to a hospital for examination and refrain from participating in activities. The administrators of the shrine, or another person at the shrine, must be assigned as responsible to attend to COVID affairs and supervise in such cases.
All rituals and processions must be reduced accordingly “to the extent necessary” and the number of Ma Song and their assistants participating must also be reduced “as necessary”, and the Ma Song are to “refrain from performing miracles”.
All people must have their temperature screened before entering the shrine area. All participants in all ceremonies must wear masks at all times, and must strictly maintain social distancing.
The number of altars with incense for people to pay their respects must be reduced and access must be organised to keep people outside as much as possible. The room housing the altar must be well ventilated.
Shops are prohibited from selling firecrackers other than those used during the festival. The lighting of fireworks and playing with firecrackers in a dangerous way are prohibited.
Kitchens and stalls serving vegetarian fare must be organised to reduce congestion and in accordance with the health regulations and guidelines
For any activities, the number of people attending must not exceed 100, and all attendees must wear a mask and observe social distancing at all times.
“If an infected person is found in the ritual area or a kitchen or a cooking place or at the shops around the shrine, staff from a local medical facility must take the infected person for treatment and refrain from contact with the person in accordance with health measures,” Governor Narong said.
“The area will be closed for at least three days and washed with disinfectant. After that, the operators can resume their work,” he added.
“High-risk contacts must be quarantined as ordered by disease control officials, and if more than 10% of the participants are found to be infected, officials are to consider reducing the activity and reducing the number of participants.
“If more than 20% of the participants are found to be infected in a continuous cluster, the event will be cancelled,” Governor Narong said.
All shrines taking part in the festival have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) agreeing to the conditions set out, Governor Narong added.
However, he noted that officials were empowered to take any action needed to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
The official order mandating the conditions also included the penalties for breach of health regulations issued under the emergency decree and the Communicable Disease Act, he added.
“Therefore we ask the organisers to hold the traditional Vegetarian Festival in Phuket with all participants strictly following the measures,” Governor Narong said.
“Because during that time there will still be the spread COVID-19 infections, measures must be taken for safety, yet we can maintain the continuation of cultural traditions that have been passed down for a long time to last forever,” he said.