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The traditional new year Songkran Festival is being celebrated in Thailand. Despite the water splashing ban due to the COVID-19, many other events such as handicraft exhibits, buddha statue water-pouring rituals and food markets are promoted to make people get together to enjoy the festivities in a safer and dryer way.
BANGKOK-- For the third year in a row, Thailand is celebrating its traditional new year Songkran in a water-free mode, despite the country being set to lift most COVID-19 control measures once and for all in the near future.
A parade of young Thais in colorful traditional costumes, an elephant with a lady dressed elegantly as the "Songkran Goddess" on its back, and music performances and dancers, marked this year's new year celebration in the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya on Wednesday, the first day of Songkran.
Handicraft exhibits, buddha statue water-pouring rituals, together with a food market, the local authorities are trying hard to make people get together to enjoy the festivities in a safer and dryer way.
To better contain the spread of the COVID-19 in the country, the Thai government has prohibited water splashing, powder smearing and foam parties, which the Songkran festival is most famed for.
Performers participate in a street parade celebrating the Songkran Festival in Ayutthaya, Thailand, April 13, 2022. (Xinhua/Wang Teng)
Instead, this year's event focused on the traditional and cultural angles of the holiday, such as family values and ancient ceremonies, according to Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand(TAT).
Ekarat, a Thai visitor on Wednesday night's show, told Xinhua he noticed the effort from the event organizers who try to explain the cultural stories of Thailand from historic scripts in the form of performances.
For foreigners like David, a young tourist from Singapore, it was exciting to see that larger events can be organized again in Thailand. However, he was a bit disappointed by the absence of any water spectacles.
Unlike the previous two years, the country's COVID-19 taskforce this year has allowed interprovincial travel and further eased border control measures in order to lure more international visitors.
Since the start of the Songkran week, the rail system has seen a huge increase in passenger traffic. TAT estimated that throughout the long holidays, the southeast Asian nation will host a total of 3.34 million Thai and foreign tourists.
Despite the water splashing ban, social media revealed that people played with water guns in some tourist hotspots such as Patong beach in Phuket island and Bangkok's busy Khaosan road Wednesday night, which prompted the government to reaffirm the ban the next day.
Special forces and tourist police were sent to the area on Thursday, to prevent COVID-19 measure violations. Several roadblocks with police control points have been set up at both ends of Khao San Road.
"The number of visitors is the same as yesterday," Champ, a vendor at Khaosan road, told Xinhua on Thursday. He is happy to see people flocking to the street to celebrate the festival which keeps his business floating.
This stands in stark contrast to how Khaosan road looked just a few months ago, when it resembled a ghost town.
However, popular spots with crowds celebrating Songkran also posed a risk for COVID-19 outbreaks, which are predicted by medical experts before the holiday.
Thailand's health ministry said that the long holidays could intensify the spread of the coronavirus, with the number of new cases expected to exceed 100,000 per day afterwards.
Prasit Watanapa, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital, said Thailand's mortality rate is currently 3-4 times the government's target of 0.1 percent.
He warned that in face of a post-Songkran surge of daily cases, the government must keep the number of single-day deaths below 200 and the number of hospitalizations manageable to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed.