Cambodia halts 'Festival of the Dead' after Covid-19 outbreak

A woman offering food and alms to a Buddhist monk as she prays during the Festival of Death in Phnom Penh on Sept 24, 2021.
A woman offering food and alms to a Buddhist monk as she prays during the Festival of Death in Phnom Penh on Sept 24, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia has cancelled its "Festival of the Dead" - an annual holiday where the Buddhist faithful pay their respects to deceased relatives - after a Covid-19 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 Tuesday (Sept 21) but will come to an early end on the weekend after nearly 50 Buddhist monks tested positive for Covid-19 and the authorities locked down their temple in Phnom Penh.

The festival cancellation is "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 in a statement on Thursday night.

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 more than 98 per cent 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 Mr Hun Sen said a pilot scheme to allow fully vaccinated international travellers to visit is under consideration.