He said that guidelines for the relaxation of COVID-19 curbs for Songkran will be proposed at a meeting of a subcommittee of the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) today.
Mr Itthiphol said that a Culture Ministry committee overseeing Songkran activities yesterday had discussed the guidelines with the National Security Council and the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
He said that this year’s Songkran would focus on the traditional aspects of the festival such as merit-making, sprinkling water on Buddha statues, pouring water onto the elderly’s palms and asking for their blessings.
However, fun activities such as water splashing and powder smearing will be banned out of concern over new clusters of COVID-19 as water splashing could heighten the risk of infection, Mr Itthiphol said.
The proposed guidelines will be presented to the CCSA for consideration on Friday, he said.
He said private operators still need to follow disease control measures, adding that Khao San Road will be allowed to be closed to traffic for Songkran celebrations, but no water splashing and foam will be permitted.
Foam parties would also be banned during Songkran, Mr Itthiphol said, adding that street processions of cultural floats in each province can go ahead with limits imposed on the number of participants.
Asked by reporters whether the scare about the new cluster of COVID-19 infections in Bangkok’s Bang Khae district would affect the relaxation of COVID-19 curbs during Songkran, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday that there would be little impact if the situation was brought under control.
Proposed relaxations for Songkran will be discussed at a meeting of the CCSA on Friday, Gen Prayut said.
“For this year’s Songkran, we will focus on controlling areas where activities will be organised as well as at-risk areas, particularly fresh markets which will see additional measures imposed such as controlling the entry and exit of people, the use of tracking apps, and mask-wearing. We have to be strict otherwise the problem cannot be solved,” the prime minister said.
Gen Prayut went on to say that new cases have continued to rise, but the case rate was still low due to efficient disease control measures.
Ronnakit Ekkasing, deputy mayor of Pattaya, yesterday announced a plan to organise “Thailand Wonder Wave 2021 Songkran-Wanlai Festival”, which is being touted as the biggest music event in Pattaya since the outbreak of COVID-19 early last year.
The event is aimed at boosting local tourism which has been sluggish for more than one year, Mr Ronnakit said.
It will take place under strict disease control measures at Ramayana water park in Pattaya from April 15-19, he said.
Jirakorn Sompitak, an artist, said that the event involves a concert being held in the middle of the water park, with more than 70 singers and musicians.
Visitors can enjoy mega waves and the night-time atmosphere at the water park, with a projection screen made of water, product booths and special dishes mixed with cannabis to be offered, Mr Jirakorn said.
Sanga Ruangwattanakul, president of the Khao San Business Association and chief executive officer of Buddy Group, said that the ban on water splashing during Songkran would inevitably cause the number of tourists to Khao San and spending to fall.
However, business operators on Khao San Road had accepted the decision which prioritised public health, Mr Sanga said.
As a result of the ban, Songkran activities on Khao San will have to be adjusted and preparations have already been made, with a focus to be placed on cultural aspects of Songkran instead.
“Plans are to build a roof over the entire road with disinfection tunnels to be installed for people entering. Water guns and powder will be banned. Songkran at Khao San will be free of COVID-19,” Mr Sanga said.
In Phuket, Bhummikitti Raktaengam, president of the Phuket Tourist Association, said the government should come up with measures to encourage people to travel during Songkran to Phuket, because water splashing in Phuket usually takes place only on April 13.
Sarayuth Mallam, president of the Phuket Tourism Council, said that people prefer to go out and enjoy the natural beauty of Phuket rather than engaging in water fights during Songkran.
Therefore, a ban on water splashing would have no direct bearing on local tourism in Phuket, he said.