Cambodian villagers trust magic scarecrows to ward off coronavirus

DECHO, Cambodia (Reuters) - Cambodian villager Ek Chan has avoided the novel coronavirus so far without masks or social distancing but rather the scarecrows she has made to keep the deadly virus at bay.

Ek Chan's two scarecrows, known locally as "Ting Mong", guard the gate of her house in Kandal province near the capital Phnom Penh, giving her peace of mind.

The practice has existed for more than a century in some Cambodian villages, where residents like 64-year-old Ek Chan trust their ability to fend off evil spirits and disease.

"Since I made these Ting Mongs, they helped to scare away any virus including the coronavirus and stop it spreading to my family," said Ek Chan, who has a male and a female scarecrow.

"I myself really believe in the magic of the scarecrows and I don't worry about catching the virus at all."

Cambodia is among the countries least affected by the coronavirus, with just 307 cases and no deaths reported, having contained minor outbreaks in March, July and August.

But many Cambodians are still wary of getting infected, with fears heightened earlier this month when Hungary's foreign minister visited the country and later tested positive.

That prompted the testing and isolation of hundreds of people potentially exposed, including Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, and temporary bans on gatherings.

The scarecrows are easy to make, typically comprised of rice hay, bamboo or wooden sticks and dressed in old clothes.

Some are even given motorcycle helmets and armed by their owners with sticks and knives.

Ek Chan said she knows little of the science of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and though she believes in the power of her scarecrows, she hopes a free vaccine will be available soon.

"That will kill this virus from our country," she added.

(Reporting by Chantha Lach; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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