Nationwide Buddhist ceremonies canceled for safety from virus

It was the enlightened thing to do. Putting the safety of parishioners as its highest priority, the governing council of Buddhist monks in Thailand canceled nationwide ceremonies for Visakha Bucha Day, which marks the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Lord Buddha.

Over 95 percent of Thais are Buddhists. They pay respect on Visakha Bucha Day by donating for merit, chanting sutras, and circumambulating temples in early evening processions, holding candles to symbolize the light of the Buddha’s wisdom and teachings.

But with current social distancing measures in effect to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Supreme Sangha Council, the religion’s governing body, instructed temples to forego the ceremonies this year. Last month, Thailand’s elected government also canceled celebrations of Songkran, the Buddhist New Year, and one of the most popular “water” holidays with Thais and foreign visitors.

A strict set of policies imposed by the government appears to be working. Last week, new infections nationwide were in the single digits each day. Thailand was the first country to record a case of COVID -19, that of a tourist from China in early January. Many predicted that the pandemic would hit the Kingdom hard because it receives somewhere on the order of one million tourists from China each month.

As of May 8, however, Thailand had recorded exactly 3,000 cases and 55 deaths. The Ministry of Public Health has said that 2,784 of those patients have recovered, while the rest remain hospitalized.

The government issued a state of emergency order at the end of March to try and stop the spread of the virus in its tracks. Officials took a range of actions, including shutting down most domestic and international flights, imposing a night-time curfew, banning alcohol sales, closing down malls, and most shops except for restaurants, pharmacies, and other businesses deemed essential.

While the state of emergency is still in effect, some shops and businesses have been allowed to welcome customers again in a phased-in reopening that will grow wider over the next several weeks. The government will monitor the situation and re-impose stricter rules if infections begin to rise.

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