Authorities halt ‘Festival of the Dead’ after virus outbreak

Taking precautions: People offering food and alms to a Buddhist monk during the Pchum Ben festival outside a pagoda in Phnom Penh, as authorities halted celebrations after a Covid-19 outbreak among monks in the capital. — AFP

The country has cancelled its “Festival of the Dead” – an annual holiday where the Buddhist faithful pay respects to deceased relatives – after a coronavirus outbreak among monks in the capital.

Worshippers around the country visit pagodas during the two-week Pchum Ben festival to offer prayers and food to the spirits of their ancestors.

This year’s observance began on Wednesday but will come to an early end on the weekend after nearly 50 Buddhist monks tested positive for coronavirus and authorities locked down their temple in Phnom Penh.

The festival cancellation was “necessary to control the spread of Covid-19... at the time that Cambodia is reopening schools and is planning to reopen the country,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said.

He noted that in just two days since the festival kicked off on Sept 22, there had been many cases of Covid-19 reported at some pagodas.

At Chom Pus Ka-ek pagoda alone, 45 Covid-19 cases had been detected, prompting its temporary closure.

Hun Sen said if Pchum Ben continued in its current form, no matter how many vaccines had been administered to people, Covid-19 will continue to spread.

“We have tried to control the situation and minimise infections, but this contagious disease will surge during Pchum Ben if measures are not taken,” he said.

Cambodia largely avoided the spread of the pandemic last year but surging infections since have seen more than 105,000 cases and nearly 2,200 deaths.

It has nonetheless won praise for a swift vaccine drive, with Cambodia’s health ministry claiming that over 98% of the country’s adult population has received at least one dose.

Schools in some lower-risk parts of the country reopened last week and Hun Sen said a pilot scheme to allow fully vaccinated international travellers to visit is under consideration. — AFP/The Phnom Penh Post/ANN

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