The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration are preparing 175 public city buses to transport people to their home provinces “free of charge” over the Pchum Ben holiday, from September 23-27, following an instruction from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In an audio address to the nation on September 12, on the second day of the traditional 15-day observance, Hun Sen said the free service would be targeted primarily at workers who need to go to their hometown in order to reduce their expense on travel.

He said the measure is to counter opportunistic taxi service providers who are increasing their fees

“Provide transportation service during Pchum Ben by releasing all buses heading to the provinces like we had done before the Covid-19 pandemic. This is to discourage the increase in ticket prices by private taxis,” he said, while urging taxi drivers and private transportation companies to refrain from increasing their fares during the holiday.

The premier also instructed authorities to provide safety at all pagodas and resort areas frequented by holiday revellers.

Meth Meas Pheakdey, spokesman for City Hall, told The Post on September 12 that a working group had determined that 175 buses would be required, with 55 servicing Phnom Penh and 120 across the provinces.

Thaem Sary, a factory worker hailing from Kampong Chhnang province and currently working in Phnom Penh, supported the premier’s call as it could help people other than workers as well because the money saved from the cost of travel would likely be spent on other necessities.

“I think it is really good when workers can travel without much expense. Some of us do not have any transportation means to get home, so this would really be helpful,” he said.

Hun Sen also called on the public to remain vigilant against the coronavirus during the holiday.

“Although the disease is now low risk, I still keep appealing to the elderly and the general public who celebrate Pchum Ben to continue maintaining health measures thoroughly to prevent the spread of the disease, both at pagoda and home,” he said.

Cambodia has reported no new deaths from Covid-19 since April and the daily number for new cases of mild severity also remains low.

Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has also advised municipal and provincial authorities to consistently implement Covid-19 preventive measures and urged people to get at least a two-dose course of vaccines and booster shots.

“We have brought the Covid-19 pandemic under control, vaccinated over 94 per cent of the country’s estimated population of 16 million, and successfully reopened the country, but we can’t be complacent and let our guard down,” he said in instructions released last weekend.

“Authorities in provinces, districts and towns have to send officials to supervise and advise the public to consistently implement preventive measures and urge them to get two doses and then third, fourth and fifth booster shots at health centres and mobile vaccination sites,” he said.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 600 million people have been infected with Covid-19 worldwide and more than 6.4 million have died from the disease as of September 4 this year.

Kampong Chhnang provincial health department director Prak Vun said the department has yet to receive any instructions for the previously planned Covid-19 vaccination sites at pagodas or recreational places.

“We have already vaccinated people in the villages. So, we have yet to decide or instruct officials to vaccinate people at pagodas because during the previous Khmer New Year, we did that, but the results weren’t that great. Many do not dare get vaccinated at that time because they fear that it will make them ill for even one day and disrupt their holiday,” he said.

Le Chansangvat, director of the Banteay Meanchey provincial health department, said vaccinations were generally available at all health centres throughout the province, also noting that people may not want to get vaccinated at pagodas or recreation places.

“I think that people going to the pagoda will not want to get vaccinated at that time. But regardless, we have these vaccinations available at all 68 health centres in Banteay Meanchey province and the vaccinations are available from Monday to Sunday, during all open hours,” he added.