Prime Minister Hun Sen said the possible spread of Covid-19 during the 15-day Pchum Ben festival was of great concern and could lead to many infections if the celebration is left unmanaged.
In an audio message addressed to chief monks, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Cults and Religions on September 23, Hun Sen requested that the patriarchs of the two Buddhist sects take measures to cope with the Covid-19 situation.
He noted that in just two days since the festival kicked off on September 22, there had been many cases of Covid-19 reported at some pagodas. At Chom Pus Ka-ek pagoda alone, 45 Covid-19 cases had been detected, prompting its temporary closure.
Hun Sen urged the religions ministry to discuss with the Supreme Sangha Council to make a decision.
“During the 15-day festival, how many people will get the disease if an outbreak happens in pagodas? Not only at pagodas, but when they leave, they will pass it on to others as well,” he said.
Hun Sen said if Pchum Ben continued in its current form, no matter how many vaccines had been administered to people, Covid-19 will continue to spread.
“We have tried to control the situation and minimise infections, but this contagious disease will surge during Pchum Ben if measures are not taken,” he said.
Following the prime minister’s appeal, Phnom Penh municipal religions department urged all pagodas to organise the festival by strictly adhering to Covid-19 preventive measures. The department told each pagoda to stop gatherings temporarily.
In the meantime, the national Covid-19 vaccination committee has announced that people who had recovered from Covid-19 for four months and who have not yet been vaccinated could get the jabs at national or referral hospitals throughout the country before the nationwide campaign is finished.
“All people aged six and older who have recovered from Covid-19 for four months and who have yet to be vaccinated against Covid-19, please go for vaccinations on a voluntary basis,” it said, citing recommendations of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the World Health Organisation.
National-level civil servants who have recovered from the disease for four months and who have yet to be vaccinated can get the jabs at Calmette Hospital, Preah Ang Duong Hospital, National Paediatric Hospital, Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital and the National Maternal and Child Health Centre, all of which are located in Phnom Penh.
For sub-national level civil servants and the general public, they can be vaccinated at municipal and provincial referral hospitals and at some vaccination sites designated by authorities.
Or Vandine, health ministry spokeswoman and head of the committee, said on September 23 while closing the Covid-19 vaccination campaign in Takeo province that in order to counter new variants of Covid-19, those who recovered from the disease for four to six months could get vaccinated.
“Please come and get vaccinated in a hurry to further boost immune systems. The recovered also have to get a second dose, 21 days after the first dose,” she said.