Khmer New Year to Be Optional, With Travel, Ceremonies Restricted

2 min read
A crowd at the Angkor Sangkran event in Siem Reap during Khmer New Year in 2019, in this photograph posted to the Siem Reap Provincial Government’s Facebook page.

The government stopped short of postponing the Khmer New Year holidays amid the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, announcing that businesses can choose to delay the three-day Khmer New Year holidays until Pchum Ben or another time later in the year but government offices would be closed April 14-16.

It also advised people to avoid unnecessary travel as well as religious ceremonies and other gatherings.

In a statement from Sunday, the government said public institutions would take April 14-16 as a holiday. But private businesses could either have the same three days off or postpone the holiday, it said.

“The country has been facing a high risk of the spreading of Covid-19,” the statement said. But it did not postpone the holiday or ban travel outright, instead calling on people to “avoid unnecessary travel to or from areas at high risk of Covid-19.”

It also called on transport companies to avoid raising passenger transportation fees during the holidays.

The Khmer New Year holidays typically see tens of thousands of Phnom Penh residents leave the city to return to their home provinces.

Earlier, unions and an employers association backed the postponement of the Khmer New Year holiday, saying it would be better for both public health and the struggling economy.

The National Trade Unions Coalition sent a letter last week calling for the holiday to be delayed, while Mam Rithy, president of the Cambodian Tourism and Services Workers Federation, also said he supported the holiday’s postponement in light of the current Covid-19 outbreak.

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia secretary-general Ken Loo said factory owners were also concerned about trying to control the current outbreak.

Cambodia currently has more than 780 active Covid-19 cases in the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak to date.

“Actually, the factory owners are equally worried,” Loo said last week. “We welcome the request from the union and we are waiting to implement what the Royal Government announces.”

Economic researcher Ky Sereyvath said postponing the holiday would benefit both society and the economy.

“[It] is a good strategy. All workers, all factories will be operational, which means a boost in production and economic growth. Second, it can prevent the spread of Covid,” Sereyvath said.

Vann Ranphyrom Sovaan, a 30-year-old shopkeeper in Meanchey district, said she wanted the holiday delayed even though she would miss seeing her family.

“It would be better because the disease is getting worse, and if we continue [like this], it will increase, become more chaotic, and we can no longer meet,” she said.

“We are separated from our families,” she said. “But if we go and gather, we could take the disease and transmit it to each other.”

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