Bleak mood for traditional holidays . . .
April is usually marked by multi-day festivities across much of Southeast Asia as countries observe one of the most important annual holidays – the Buddhist New Year. In Thailand, people celebrate ‘Songkran’ by paying respect to elders and sprinkling water on figures of Buddha – a tradition that has taken the form of large water fights popular among locals and travellers alike. Water splashing, believed to wash away impurity and bring good luck for the new year, is also a component of Cambodian and Burmese traditions, along with temple and family visits. However, the typically joyous period of celebration is looking very different this year amid a raging pandemic and political instability in the region.
Urged to celebrate at home . . .
Recent spikes in COVID-19 cases have prompted Thai authorities to set up additional field hospitals in major cities, cancel large parties, and impose measures such as the temporary closure of bars and nightclubs. Although there is no national travel restriction, some provinces have implemented their own measures, such as a mandatory quarantine for travellers from Bangkok and surrounding areas. In Cambodia, the government has taken a more muscular approach to recent surges in community transmission, banning inter-provincial travel and imposing a nighttime curfew. International health experts warn that Cambodia’s underfunded health system could be overwhelmed if the situation spirals out of control.
Day of mourning in Myanmar . . .
Ongoing violent confrontations between anti-coup protesters and the military, as well as a nationwide civil disobedience movement, have paralyzed Myanmar’s health care system. Although the exact number of cases is hard to determine due to a lack of testing, experts fear that the combination of both a health and a humanitarian crisis could have devastating consequences for people around the country, especially ethnic minorities. Meanwhile, protesters have called off traditional ‘Thingyan’ new year festivities to show their opposition to the military junta, which has killed more than 700 protesters since the coup on February 1.
- Channel News Asia: Myanmar activists cancel new year festivities, hold low-key protests
- Nikkei Asia: Thailand braces for COVID-19 spike after Songkran holiday
- The Phnom Penh Post: Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns