As the Covid-19 pandemic drags on, Buddhist pagodas across the country are celebrating Visak Bochea day in low-key fashion as Buddhists adhere to the government’s guidelines to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Ministry of Cults and Religion spokesman Seng Somony said that this year Visak Bochea is being celebrated in the same manner that Khmer New Year was celebrated two weeks ago when Buddhist followers in small numbers brought food alms to the monks at the pagodas and then quickly returned home.

He said there were no celebrations held by high-profile government officials like in past years because they were all afraid of contracting the virus and because they had sworn to obey the health measures and to avoid large crowds.

“At every pagoda across the country we have instructed them to celebrate the day briefly and then return home as instructed by the Ministry of Health,” he said.

In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Visak Bochea is celebrated by Buddhists worldwide. He reminded people that the day is one of the most important holy days in Cambodia because it commemorated three events in Buddhism: The birth, enlightenment and attainment of Nirvana by Gautama Buddha.

Hun Sen noted that Visak Bochea Day is registered with the UN as a World International Religious Day and it first gained that status back on December 15, 1999.

Venerable Po Sokvun, chief monk of Vichetaram pagoda in the capital’s Chbar Ampov district, said his pagoda observed the holiday but he urged Buddhists not to come to the pagoda and to instead celebrate the day at home with just their immediate families in order to protect their lives from Covid-19.

“At the pagoda, we will still celebrate this holy day; we won’t ignore it. But Buddhists who are not monks can celebrate it with their families at home instead this year,” he said.