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Silent streets for water festival in Myanmar lockdown

A trishaw rider cycles on Mahabandoola road, with the Sule pagoda in the background, on the first day of Myanmar's New Year water festival Thingyan on April 12, 2020. Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP

Myanmar’s New Year festival of Thingyan is the country’s biggest public holiday – normally a week of nation-wide celebration and water-fights, with soaked revellers partying late into the night.

But this year, in an echo of cancelled Easter celebrations elsewhere in the world, the country’s commercial hub Yangon is locked down, with residents confined indoors because of the coronavirus.

Food delivery bicycles and rickshaws have commandeered the city’s usually traffic-choked streets after the government ordered people to stay home unless for essential food and healthcare needs.

People taking part in celebrations for Thingyan, the water festival which marks the country’s new year, in Yangon on April 13, 2014 (top) and a man cycling along an empty street on the first day of Thingyan in Yangon on April 12, 2020. Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP

By Sunday Myanmar officially had just 38 confirmed cases – including three deaths – but many fear the low number of tests mean the real figures are likely many times higher.

Images from last year’s holiday show a different city, hoses drenching cheering crowds dancing to deafening techno beats pumped out from mammoth loudspeakers.

This year the silence is broken only by the cawing of crows and cooing of pigeons, and the motor of an occasional taxi searching for custom.

“Thingyan’s in the heart of every Myanmar person,” sad city resident Soe Moe Aung, 36, told AFP.

Both the public holiday and lockdown is due to end next Sunday, but efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus could be extended.

Yangon-based public health expert Dr Frank Smithius warns any sustained lockdown would be “devastating” for Myanmar – and other under-developed countries in the region –  where many live hand-to-mouth.

© Agence France-Presse

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