Praying on behalf of both Buddhism sect Samdech Preah Sangkha Reach
Samdech Preah Sang Neayouk, Samdech Preah Sang Neayyouk Rong, all respectful venerable
Dear compatriots who are Buddhists!
It is very unfortunate that today is the 4th day of Kan Ben that we did not celebrate the Kan Ben festival and the upcoming Pchum. The suspension (of those festivals) is related to the spread of COVID-19, and yesterday, the medical team took COVID-19’s swaps from almost every pagodas in Phnom Penh, and nearly half are infected with COVID-19.
Let me take this opportunity to clarify that in 2020 we have suspended the New Year and Pchum Ben. COVID-19 situation was not very prevalent at that time, and we only had 200 to 300 people infected. But due to thorough preventive measures through the suspension of the New Year and reimbursement with later leave, plus the thorough measures in the Pchum Ben phase, we kept our country free of infectious diseases, and there was not even death.
I understand and want to do almsgiving, but the situation in 2021 is different from 2020 starting from the events of February 20, 2021, which so far more than 100,000 people were infected. More than 2,000 people have already died. This is a tragedy for our people. I was negligent in understanding the situation, when I saw a slight decline in COVID-19 cases, and we allowed a traditional almsgiving ceremony. But in just three days, the number of infections in some monasteries has risen, which is slightly increasing the daily COVID-19 tallies from just under 600 to a little over 800 and the daily death toll to more than 20 lately.
Our people may ask, why is there still infected after vaccination? So far, we have vaccinated nearly 13 million people out of a total of more than 14 million which includes children from 6 to 12, 12 to 18, and 18 years old and above. I would like to inform you that, as I have said, vaccination alone is not enough. Vaccines only reduce the risk of infection and, once infected, reduce the progression of the disease and reduce mortality. But health measures also need to be taken, which we often say simply three dos and three don’ts. This is the point (we need to do) to save people’s lives, maintain people’s health, so if we keep our lives, we still have the opportunity to do almsgiving for decades to come for those who are young and for many years to come for the elderly. Therefore, it is not easy for a decision to be made.
Last year, we decided to suspend the New Year and reimburse our civil servants with later leave. There was also no source of Delta, the worst, fastest, deadliest, and most dangerous infectious disease. But now the Delta has invaded everywhere, even though it has just 5,000 to 6,000 cases, it is already spread across the country.
As the head of the Royal Government, I really cannot stand by and watch the infections and deaths of our people due to negligence. I hope that our fellow monks and our fellow Buddhists will genuinely understand my decision to ensure the lives of our people. Because If there is a spread in the pagoda, which already infects about half of the pagodas in Phnom Penh, from today until the day of Pchum, how many more monks and people will be infected?
The most worrying thing is not the problem in the pagodas. The infection starts from the pagodas, but when people leave the pagodas, they bring disease into their houses. Since our people go to pagodas regardless of where they live, the disease would not just be in the city; it would be spread to the countryside because some urban people go to the pagoda (in the countryside) to celebrate and vice versa, most importantly bringing disease from home to the monasteries and/or bringing it back into their house.
Therefore, I predicted that this situation would be the worst. Of course, we do not deprive our monks of food. Related to the issuance of closure measures to be done overnight to ensure that permission to continue to hold Ben 3, but Ben 4 to be suspended, so that our people still have the opportunity to appoint with the authorities to bring food or gifts to the monks. We also could just pray and make offering at home (for our ancestors), while around this month every year, there is this throwing-riceball event. Those activities can be done everywhere, especially when we have a pure heart.
All of these issues are very challenging and dangerous for the nation and the country’s religion, which I must take these necessary measures. It may conflict with the thinking of some people who do not understand the so-called measures to protect life and protection against the spread of this deadly disease. I would like to thank you all for your comments on my Facebook page supporting the suspension of Kan Ben and Pchum. And we do not prohibit the three-day leave of civil servants and workers who are entitled to paid leave. You can travel to different places while practicing health measures. That is how you could do during this period of Pchum Ben because some people came to ask, but I did not have time to answer.
I would like to confirm that we continue to allow civil servants and employees of companies to take leave following the sub-decree contained in the Pchum Ben holiday. We continue to encourage you to travel here and there, especially to enable you to visit eco-tourism sites and tourism in the well-organized community so that our people can know the country and our natural sites better.
Our goal is to prevent the transmission at pagodas, which is crowded with people we do not know where they come from or go to. We try not to spread the disease from the pagodas to the households, and vice versa, which it could spread throughout the community which could lead to closure of schools again as we are now trying our best to reopen them. In the future, we will reopen (schools) to a larger scale. And yesterday, I also allowed the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports to reopen both public and private universities.
The problems are severe and mild. But the lives and health of the people are the highest priority. Saving life now so that we all will have a lot of time to do almsgiving in the future. If we die due to COVID-19, we have no chance to do the ceremony. We really want to go to the pagoda, but if going to the pagoda will bring back the disease or bring the disease to the pagoda, then it is not a good choice. I hope that Samdech, all the monks, and our Buddhists won’t have difficulty understanding my decision.
This is not correspondence with those who do business on my decision. I just want to confirm that there were only 200 to 400 infected people during September of last year, and by February 2021, we have about 600 people infected. However, we had strict measures to suspend the new year and reimburse later leave, and there are thorough measures for Pchum Ben. We guarantee the elimination of the infections.
Now we have the vaccine, but the vaccine alone is not enough. … (yesterday) we have found infections only in Chompous K’aek and Neak Vorn Pagodas. Still, now even at the Onalom pagoda where Samdech Sangkha Reach resides, there are COVID-19 infections among some other pagodas; half of the pagodas (in Phnom Penh) were infected with COVID-19. So, if we continued 4th day of Kan Ben and prolonged until the time of Pchum, how dangerous would this situation be? It would be severe and catastrophic for the public health and the people, primarily when COVID-19 often attacks the elderly, and it was those people who often go to the pagoda …
This is a point that we need to worry about, and I urge our local authorities at the provincial, district and commune levels to pay attention to how to cooperate so that our monks can have food in this critical stage. We do not give up traditional festivals, but we (must) get through this stage. This field is big, this is like the crossing of these three fields, and this is the third field, the pandemic field that our people have to cross to the other side.
We have worked hard to vaccinate our population, which now reach close to 13 million comparing to the total of 14 million people who need to be vaccinated. We have proceeded to injection of the third dose, which has been doing for some and will be fully loaded from October in Phnom Penh, Kandal, and other provinces. We have worked hard to protect the people’s lives, but I accept the ridicule of some opponents who make it unreasonable and say what they are saying. But at least I have saved people’s lives and kept our people from getting sick from COVID-19.
Last night, when I received the report on the swap test result, I was shocked. If people go to those pagodas today, those diseases will spread from house to house, from family to family. We only take samples from pagodas in Phnom Penh. We have not yet taken samples from pagodas in the provinces. We have more than 4,000 pagodas. … we already found many infected people in half of the pagodas in Phnom Penh. The source of infection is enormous; if we do not anticipate it, we will be in danger.
Samdech, all venerable monks, the people who are Buddhists, please understand me who made this difficult decision to ensure the life, ensure the health of each people as well as public health, and to ensure that our country is not as contagious and deadly as in other countries. In India, where many deaths occur, it began with a religious ritual. There were no practicing of social distancing … What are three “dos”? … including (1) to wear a mask in public places, (2) to wash your hands often with soap and alcohol/gel and (3) to keep social distancing. The three “don’ts” includes (1) do not go to places where there are a lot of people (2) do not go in an enclosed place and (3) do not touch each other, stop shaking hands, stop hugging, except for our children/wife who is with us daily. Here are some methods to prevent COVID-19 without relying only on vaccines.
I would like to respectfully offer a blessing to Samdech Preah Sangkha Reach, all the monks, and wish all my compatriots the four blessings of Buddha.