The first ever virtual Water festival in the time of COVID-19

COVID-19 response

Phyu Sin Wai
Ni Ni Khin Zaw's Facebook page
28 May 2020

In Myanmar, Thingyan, the water festival that is usually celebrated in the second week of April is the most precious time of the year as it marks the New year in Myanmar calendar and people from all walks of life come together with their families and friends to celebrate the long New Year holidays. This year, the holiday was as long as two weeks and therefore, the majority of the businesses normally would close during this period and people working in the cities or towns would return back to their hometowns to enjoy the holidays with their loved ones. Public transport tickets would be sold out even weeks before the Thingyan holidays as most of the people are eager to travel back either to their hometowns or for visiting.

Paing Takhon's Facebook page
Paing Takhon, a well-known model and actor with 1.6 million followers on Facebook, participating at virtual online water festival and greeting his fans for the New Year

However, this year with the outbreak of COVID-19, things drastically changed. The first COVID-19 positive case was found in Myanmar on 23rd March and one week before the Thingyan, there were a total of 20 positive cases found. In order to avoid mass gatherings during the 10-day holiday, the Myanmar Government of Myanmar issued an order for stay at home  during the Thingyan celebration. It was upsetting for many people especially children and young people who couldn’t celebrate their Thingyan school break freely as they have planned. Since Day one of the stay at home period, people followed the advice from the Ministry of Health and Sports (MOHS) strictly and the roads were all deserted even though the order allowed people to go out to buy grocery or for medical care purposes.

To support and encourage people to celebrate Thingyan in a new way this year, UNICEF Myanmar together with MOHS engaged celebrities such as famous actors, actresses, singers and social influencers to post short videos celebrating water festival virtually on Facebook. A total of 33 celebrities entertained the public audience through several Facebook video clips and also gave reminders to the public to follow essential COVID-19 preventive measures of staying at home, handwashing and physical distancing etc. as advised by the MOHS.

By the end of the campaign, the online water festival stories were viewed by approximately 5 million Facebook users within a weeks’ time. We all were pleasently reminded to celebarate the Thinyan holidays in a different way this year - from our homes, but yet not alone.