In his latest move to contain the spread of coronavirus in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday cancelled the celebrations of the upcoming Khmer New Year, the biggest holiday of the year.
Speaking in a press conference at the capital’s Peace Palace, the premier said: “The government wants to reduce the number of people travelling to prevent the spread of infection from one place to another. If we allowed the people to travel freely all over the country, there would be a grave risk of huge cluster infections.”
The Khmer New Year will begin on Monday 13 and end on Thursday 16.
Mr Hun Sen added the measure was proposed to him by the National Committee for Combatting COVID-19.
“At this moment, the safest place is the workplace,” Mr Hun Sen said. “I hope all government officials and private sector employees will understand the difficulty faced by the nation.”
Though Mr Hun Sen said the people can still celebrate within their families, they will not have their usual holiday break nor can they celebrate in public or gather at pagodas.
A few hours after the press conference, the Labour Ministry issued an announcement, promising to compensate government officials and private sector employees with a five-day holiday at “a more suitable time”.
Far Saly, president of the National Trade Union Confederation, welcomed the decision of the government, noting on Monday his union sent a proposal to the Ministry of Labour to enforce said measure.
“We asked the ministry to cancel the celebration of the Khmer New Year and ask employees to work as usual because we believe this is the most effective way to prevent major cluster infections within the workers in the garment industry,” Mr Saly said.
“Until now, no garment factory worker has been infected with COVID-19 but we fear that if they visit their hometowns during the holiday, they could contract the coronavirus from people from their community, especially from returning migrant workers, and pass it to their colleagues once they come back to work.”
Mr Saly added that garment industries in Cambodia are already facing many difficulties, including the suspension of the Everything-but-arms preferential trade scheme, as well as the raw materials crunch and cancelled or postponed apparel orders, attributed to the global COVID-19 outbreak. Spreading the disease in crowded factories is “out of question,” said Mr Saly.
History Professor Sambo Manara said the government’s move to cancel Khmer New Year is “the first time in Cambodia’s modern history”.
“Khmer New Year has been so important that it was even celebrated during
the Khmer Rouge regime, although in a different way,” Mr Manara said. “It is a big part of our people’s life and tradition. However, the prime minister’s historic decision today is also a must since the government needs to prevent public gatherings”.
While others lauded the pre-emptive measure, many workers in the capital who have been looking forward to receiving the new year with their families are not so delighted.
“I can only visit my parents, who are taking care of my baby, in Banteay Meanchey province twice a year – during Khmer New Year and during Pchum Ben,” said a 28-year-old garment factory worker in Chak Angre commune who refused to be named.
“This is the worst Khmer New Year in my life.”