Cambodia halts Festival of the Dead after Covid outbreak

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Cambodia has cancelled its Festival of the Dead - an annual holiday where the Buddhist faithful pay respects to deceased relatives - after a coronavirus outbreak among monks in the capital.

Worshippers around the country visit pagodas during the two-week Pchum Ben festival to offer prayers and food to the spirits of their ancestors.

This year's observance began on Tuesday but will come to an early end on the weekend after nearly 50 Buddhist monks tested positive for coronavirus and authorities locked down their temple in Phnom Penh.

The festival cancellation was "necessary to control the spread of Covid-19...at the time that Cambodia is reopening schools and is planning to reopen the country," Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a Thursday night statement.

Cambodia largely avoided the spread of the pandemic last year but surging infections since have seen more than 105 000 cases and nearly 2200 deaths.

It has nonetheless won praise for a swift vaccine drive, with Cambodia's health ministry claiming that over 98 percent of the country's adult population has received at least one dose.

Schools in some lower-risk parts of the country reopened last week and Hun Sen said a pilot scheme to allow fully vaccinated international travellers to visit is under consideration.

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