Pagoda Visits OK, Should ‘Reduce’ Singing, Dancing for Khmer New Year

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Lay priest Tith Ros, 79, performs a blessing ritual for pagoda visitors at Wat Nirouth on September 3, 2020. (Michael Dickison/VOD)

The Health Ministry is discouraging people from traveling to high-risk Covid-19 areas during the Khmer New Year and suggests reducing gatherings, drinking, dancing and singing, stopping short of banning festivities amid the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak to date.

In a statement issued Friday, the ministry said masks, hand-washing and social distancing were mandatory for the Khmer New Year period, especially at pagodas, where monks must limit the number of people entering to avoid crowding.

Monks must also wear masks, and check people for fevers at entrances, the ministry said.

The ministry also asked members of the public to avoid “unnecessary” travel, but suggested people travel in small family groups, avoid public transport, choose appropriate travel methods and stay clear of high-risk areas.

“Choose the pagoda closest to home instead of traveling to other provinces,” one instruction said.

“Bus drivers: Keep an eye on masks, social distancing in the bus, and open windows and maintain frequent hand-washing and alcohol spraying,” said another.

“Reduce gatherings and drinking, dancing, singing.”

Pin Sem, chief monk at Wat Reach Bou in Siem Reap province, said his pagoda would follow the ministry’s instructions and welcome visitors while asking them to wear masks, wash hands and maintain social distancing.

“When they ask us to do this, we will follow them like this,” Sem said. “Currently, we already have restrictions at the pagoda and have asked people to pray at their homes … and they can listen to the radio for daily Buddhist teachings.”

Khim Sorn, Phnom Penh’s chief monk, said he thought that people would be cautious enough during the holiday, from April 14-16.

“I believe that people will join together to prevent Covid, so they will not flood the pagodas. And even if they do flock to the pagodas, monks will not allow crowds,” Sorn said.

“In the past, people used to crowd the pagodas, but now when they see a crowd, they won’t dare to pack in with the crowd like before.”

The country saw 69 new cases of Covid-19 on Friday, with the highest number of cases found in Svay Rieng province. With 16 recoveries, the country now has 1,270 active cases, a new record.

Since the emergence of the “February 20” cluster, the country has seen its first official deaths from coronavirus and an outbreak a magnitude worse than it had previously seen.

This week, Phnom Penh authorities imposed an 8 p.m. curfew, banning non-emergency travel on the city’s streets at night.

Kampong Speu province on Friday also announced that restaurants must not have customers from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., and banned sports and large gatherings.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the dates of Khmer New Year.


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