Thai govt plans nationwide prayer event while number of COVID-19 cases rises

The Thai government is planning to have Buddhist temples nationwide perform a Buddhist prayer believed to expel diseases and misfortune from the country during their evening prayer routine to raise morale during the COVID-19 outbreak, while the Ministry of Public Health reports 60 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 272.

The current statistics for COVID-19 cases in Thailand: 60 new cases brought the total number to 272, of which 42 have been discharged from hospital. So far, only one person has died.

ThaiPBS and BBC Thai reported yesterday that the government is asking Buddhist temples nationwide, along with overseas Thai temples, to recite the Rattana Sutta, a prayer believed to expel diseases and misfortune from the country, in their evening prayer routine to raise morale during the outbreak of COVID-19, starting from 25 March onwards.

A live broadcast of the ceremony on Channel 11 (NBT) and Channel 9 is also planned for 16:00 on 25 March. Tewan Liptapanlop, Minister for the Office of the Prime Minister, said that the text of the prayer will be displayed on the screen during the broadcast and that the public should perform the ceremony at home. Anyone who would like to join an event at a temple will have to go through strict screening procedures before entering temple grounds and participants will have to sit 1 metre apart.

The Rattana Sutta is a protective prayer believed to have been used by the Buddha to dispel a plague, famine, and spirits in a town named Vesali. It is also said that the prayer was used in Thailand in the past during cholera outbreaks to dispel the disease.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health reported today (19 March) that 60 new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed – the biggest jump in the number of cases to date – which brought the total number of confirmed cases in Thailand to 272.

Of the 60 new cases, 43 were connected to the individuals previously tested positive for the virus, while the other 17 were either travellers arriving from overseas or infected by unknown sources.

The Ministry of Public Health’s report said that the new cases included

  • 12 people who worked at or recently visited a boxing stadium;
  • 14 people who worked at or recently visited a Bangkok nightlife establishment;
  • 12 people who were in close contact with individuals previously tested positive for the virus;
  • 5 people who recently came back from a religious gathering in Malaysia;
  • 9 people recently returned from overseas;
  • 3 people who were in close contact with foreigners;
  • 1 personal trainer;
  • 4 people who are being further investigated, including 1 journalist.

42 of the total confirmed cases have been discharged from hospital, while 3 are reported to be in a critical condition.

Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, Director of the Department of Disease Control (DDC), said that most of the recent confirmed cases were connected to either the boxing stadiums or a nightlife establishment in Bangkok’s Thonglor area.

According to the Ministry of Public Health, there are now at least 52 patients who worked at or visited the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium and the Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium and tested positive for the virus, and at least 57 connected to a nightlife establishment in Thonglor, including visitors, staff, and the owners.

The Ministry is asking anyone who visited the Lumpinee or Rajadamnern boxing stadiums between 6 – 8 March and those who visited a Bangkok nightlife establishment between 9 – 10 March to monitor themselves for 14 days, and if they show any symptoms, including fever, sore throat, nasal discharge, or difficulty breathing, they should go to a hospital.

Suwannachai explained that the boxing stadiums and nightlife establishments are all places in which a large gathering take place, and it can be difficult to trace the source of the outbreak. However, he said that the recent surge in cases is the result of public health officers bringing those in close contact with patients and other high-risk individuals in for testing, and that the Ministry is requiring these individuals to observe a 14-day self-quarantine period even though their test results came back negative.

Nevertheless, the DDC is insisting that the outbreak is still limited despite the surge in number of confirmed cases and most are connected to either the boxing stadiums or a nightlife establishment, as officials have been able to trace the source of the infection in 75% of cases, and asks the public not to panic.

The Ministry is also tightening screening measures at the Thai-Malaysian border, after Malaysia experienced a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases.