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Poles apart: Thais find novel way to mark virus hit Songkran

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Nonthaburi (Thailand) (AFP)

Thai temple-goers poured water into the hands of monks Wednesday using a bamboo pole decorated with mangoes and bananas -- a novel hack to enforce social distancing while honoring the country's New Year traditions.

The three-day holiday -- known as Songkran -- is renowned for its booze-fueled water fights that take over entire neighbourhoods.

This year however the government banned all street celebrations to prevent the spread of coronavirus, making it the quietest in living memory as the holiday came to a sombre end on Wednesday.

Still, Thais were able to visit temples during Songkran to take part in its more traditional aspects.

At Wat Suan Kaew temple north of Bangkok, dozens of worshippers waited patiently to pour water over the abbot's hands -- an act Buddhists believe will wash away past misdeeds.

Abbot Prayom Kullayano is separated from them with a two-metre-long bamboo pole acting as a funnel, a "new innovation" by his temple, he said.

He had also installed a sanitising gate at Wat Suan Kaew's entrance, and the sprawling complex included an area where volunteers made face masks.

For those who feel lonely from self-isolation, "it will bring joy when they see this kind of environment," Prayom said.

"It's better than doing nothing," said Cherdchai Aangtong, 63, after he took his turn pouring water down the bamboo funnel.

"If we still follow the same tradition where people gather into a large crowd, there’s a risk of infection," he added.

Other temples in Bangkok had different social distancing measures in place, such as erecting plastic shield guards in front of praying monks.

Thailand has detected around 2,600 cases of the virus, with 43 deaths -- a relatively low number despite being the first country outside China to record an infection.

The government has urged all Thais to remain at home, and a night-time curfew has kept all but essential vehicles off the street.

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