The Ministry of Cults and Religions said more than 1,000 monks across the country have contracted Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Among them, seven died and over 350 have recovered.

At a press conference on October 1, ministry spokesman Seng Somony said there were several causes of infections, such as by contracting it from laypeople residing in the pagodas, when monks went around collecting alms outside the pagodas, and during various religious ceremonies.

“The government has suspended the Pchum Ben festival to protect the health and lives of the people from Covid-19,” he said.

Somony urged Buddhist followers not to visit pagodas where large crowds can be seen and should instead visit those that have not been frequented by many people. He said there are more than 5,000 pagodas across the country.

Pchum Ben has been suspended since September 25, after dozens of monks and laypeople tested positive for the disease.

Cambodian Buddhists observe Pchum Ben for 15 days, this year from September 22 to October 6, with the principal festivities celebrated from October 5-7, ending a day after the main day of “great offering”, or Ben Thom, on October 6 coinciding with the new moon. The holiday is dedicated to their ancestors and is an occasion for families to get together.