Monks in masks: Thai Buddhist novices study with social distancing

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    Buddhist novice monks wearing face shields and protective face masks attend a lesson. (Photo by REUTERS)

    By Panu Wongcha-um

    BANGKOK. – The coronavirus crisis has prompted the closing of schools and universities around the world, but at a Buddhist temple in Thailand’s capital, young novices in masks are pressing on with their studies while observing social distancing.

    About 60 student monks, some of them elementary school age, wear face shields and cloth masks – some matching their saffron-colour robes – as they attend lessons at Wat Molilokayaram, a temple in Bangkok.

    The novices live at the temple, so its abbot saw no reason to discontinue their study of the ancient scriptural language of Pali because of the virus, which has seen all government schools closed for weeks.

    Instead, the temple has set desks no less than 2 metres (6.56 ft) apart to try to prevent any spread of the virus.

    “We check temperatures of all monks and novices every morning,” said the abbot, who uses the monastic name Phra Theppariyattimolee.

    “Monks and novices are required to wear face masks when they have activities outside their living quarters … This is to protect all involved.”

    The temple is now closed to the usual Thai practice of monks receiving alms of food from the public. Instead, food is cooked inside the temple and distributed to everyone, the abbot said.

    Buddhism is practised by more than 90 percent of Thailand’s population, and temples were education centres for centuries before the introduction of state-run schools.

    Temple-based schools like that at Wat Molilokayaram continue to offer specialized religious instruction for would-be monks.

    Thailand has a total of 2,826 confirmed cases and 49 deaths from the new coronavirus that globally has infected 2.5 million people and killed more than 175,000 since first appearing in China.

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