Police and soldiers descended on Bangkok’s Khao San Road Thursday, a day after young Thais and foreign expats created a national security risk by spraying each other with water.
The Bangkok plod, embarrassed by youngsters who dared to ignore groundless warnings that engaging in Songkran water fights would spread Covid-19, were not smiling under the facemasks as they ordered all the young criminals to don masks of their own and confiscated the rainbow-colored weaponry.
City officials erected barriers at both ends of the road to screen visitors starting at 1 p.m. to ensure they weren’t bringing water guns into the area. Rapid antigen test services were also performed for those with a fever or other symptoms.
Police also fined eight businesses for selling liquor after 11 p.m. the previous night.
Gen. Supote Malaniyom, secretary-general for the National Security Council, said only traditional Songkran activities are permitted and only on the condition that permission has been granted.
Authorities said they don’t want to spoil the party mood by fining or arresting people for the heinous crimes of getting wet and having fun, so they implored people to “cooperate”.
“The government and the CCSA would like to ask for the full cooperation of locals and tourists instead of strictly enforcing the ban as we do not want to ruin the festive spirit,” said government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, referencing the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration.
“We hope to not see anyone splashing water along Khao San Road and any other public spaces over the weekend.”
Businesses on Khao San, in particular, are now being told to tell tourists that Songkran water play is not allowed.
“Those who are going to celebrate the festival, especially young people, are advised to carefully observe their health and avoid having close contact with children, elderly people and sick people when they come back home,” the spokesman said.
More than 70 city hall enforcers were on the backpacker street last night to “improve understanding” about the water splashing ban.
Only Asiatique and 10 Buddhist temples in the city are designated as Songkran celebration sites this year, which means these venues are allowed to host Covid-19 safe activities from 5-10 p.m.
Eight checkpoints are being manned on Khao San Road, said Wasan Bunmeaunwai, director of Phra Nakhon District office.
Sanga Ruangwatthanakun, president of the Khao San Business Operators Association, bemoaned the heavy-handed tactics, pointing out that the needless enforcement of an outdoor activity will only hinder tourism’s recovery. He insisted tourists pose little risk, as they had already been screened for Covid-19 upon arrival at the airport.
The government’s own figures show less than 1% of international arrivals in March and April tested positive for Covid-19 after touching donw in the country.
Crackdowns came in Chiang Mai, as well, where police ramped up their bid to stop people from splashing water. Gov. Worawit Chaisawat said the city has been ordered to stop supplying water to a makeshift tunnel with water sprinklers on Chai Si Phum Road, which was set up for tourists.
Despite the ban, a large number of foreign tourists were seen having fun on Wednesday at the tunnel, as well as the road island opposite Tha Phae gate, he said.