Cambodia halts ‘Festival of the Dead’ after Covid-19 outbreak

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia 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 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 re-opening schools and is planning to re-open the country,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a Thursday night statement.

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 per cent of the country’s adult population has received at least one dose.