Thanks to a steady decrease in Covid-19 cases, Prime Minister Hun Sen has permitted the return of Khmer New Year celebrations in mid-April, though he urges the public to continue practising all preventive measures that have so far succeeded in slowing the spread of the virus.

The premier made the remarks on March 31 at the inauguration of the new Chaom Chao interchange in the capital’s Por Sen Chey districy, just east of Phnom Penh International Airport.

He encouraged people to travel for this year’s holiday, albeit with a caveat.

“What I suggest is that they keep up their preventive health measures, especially the three dos and don’ts. The Kingdom’s success in handling the pandemic was not purely from my own efforts, but from the participation of the entire nation,” he said.

He said no one wanted to see a recurrence of positive cases after the traditional holiday, so everybody should take all of the safety measures they could. This included maintaining public order, and he instructed authorities across the Kingdom to pay attention to both security and health.

“We must have health workers on duty as well as police officers. We must have places where people can access rapid tests should they need them, and we should have appropriate numbers of staff trained and prepared to work ahead of the break,” he added.

Hun Sen said the first three months of last year were very different from what we had seen in 2022. Before our vaccination programme had really picked up steam, we had to reduce the risk to public health by quarantining large numbers of people.

“Back then, we were forced to take a lot of heavy measures. We imposed lockdowns and designated Red, Orange and Green zones to protect our people. Despite our best efforts, the Kingdom lost more than 3,000 people to the virus, with more than 130,000 becoming infected,” he added.

Since those dark days, the government had intensified its efforts to obtain sufficient vaccines, and now more than 92 per cent of the population had been inoculated, he said.

Cambodia currently has nearly 12 million doses in stock, with several million more scheduled to arrive from Italy, Poland and the US, he added.

“We have enough vaccines to protect every one of our people – from their first dose through to their third or fourth ‘booster’ shot. The number of infections reported has dropped significantly, with some provinces now at zero case totals. However, we must not become lax – let’s all work together to keep these numbers low,” he said.

In the lead-up to the Khmer New Year from April 14-16, Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng has informed all owners or directors of factories and businesses to allow their staff to take paid leave. He said that factories which have global commitments and cannot cease operations should prepare split shifts so that their workers can enjoy at least part of the holiday.

“Employees who work during Khmer New Year are entitled to a bonus payment equal to their regular wage. Labour ministry inspectors will check records of these bonuses and paid leave, so I remind all owners and directors of businesses to keep accurate records,” he added.