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Phuket Vegetarian Festival takes a COVID hit

Phuket Vegetarian Festival takes a COVID hit

PHUKET: Fire-walking, bladed-ladder climbing, hot oil bathing and crossing “bridges of nails” have all been banned at this year’s Phuket Vegetarian Festival following a directive from the Phuket Communicable Disease Committee.

cultureCOVID-19health
By Tanyaluk Sakoot

Friday 24 July 2020, 01:02PM


‘Ma Song’ spirit mediums will not be allowed to walk the streets during this year’s Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Photo: Eakkapop Thongtub / file

‘Ma Song’ spirit mediums will not be allowed to walk the streets during this year’s Phuket Vegetarian Festival. Photo: Eakkapop Thongtub / file

However, the committee has made no such rulings on the face piercings that have made the festival famous.

“This year, there will be no supernatural ablutions of faith and flesh – including fire-walking, bladed-ladder climbing, hot oil bathing and nail-bridge crossing,” Vachira Phuket Hospital Director Dr Chalermpong Sukontapol, who sits on the Phuket Communicable Disease Committee, told Chinese shrine administrators at a meeting earlier this week.

People may join the popular street processions, but the ‘Mah Song’ spirit mediums are not permitted to walk the streets. Instead, they may travel in vehicles as part of the procession, Dr Chalermpong said.

“If people would like to walk in a procession, they can do so but they must wear a mask and keep social distance,” he said.

Health officials will watch over the crowds and take action if necessary, he warned.

“Officials will remove people from the procession if there are too many people joining the parade,” he said.

A key concern is the large crowds that mass at the raising of the ‘Go Teng’ poles at each participating shrine at sunset the evening before the nine-day festival gets underway.

The festival this year is to be observed from Oct 17-26, meaning the ceremonies to raise the Go Teng poles will be held from about 6pm on Oct 16.

"During the raising of the Go Teng poles at the shrines on Oct 16, this event must be re-organized in accordance with the ‘New Normal’,” Dr Chalermpong said.

Screening points to check people for high body temperatures must be set up at the entrance to each shrine, all people joining the ceremony must wear a face mask and social distancing must be observed, he noted.

“People must take action to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and only one Mah Song is to join each activity,” Dr Chalermong said.

Mah Song assistants are to be kept to a minimum, must wear a face mask at all times and must try to observe social distancing as much as possible.

"All shrines must limit the number of people to allow five square metres per person present,” he added.

As for crowd control at the shrine kitchens during the festival, Dr Chalermpong explained that a raft of health regulations for them is being drawn up.

The rules are to be presented to the Phuket Provincial Public Health Office next week, he said.

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