Samdech, Excellencies, Lok Chumteav, Compatriots!
After Ben 1 and Ben 2, we have already seen some COVID-19 transmission among pagodas. This situation has raised significant concern for me and the head of the Royal Government, especially while leading the battle against COVID-19.
If there is such transmission, it is clear that the COVID-19 will occur in 20 or 50 percent of the pagodas nationwide (thus); we will have up to more than 2,000 pagodas that are transmissible. That infection will spread severely everywhere in the community. In this matter, I would like to suggest that both Samdech Preah Sangkha Reach and Samdech Sang Neakyouk consider what should be done in this challenging situation.
The information I received from Champouk K’aek Pagoda, which is chaired by Samdech Am Lim Heng, the first Deputy Director of the Sang Neakyouk, has up to 45 cases of infection that require the closure of the pagoda. I want to request the Board of Monks, the Executive Committee of the Monks’ Administration, in conjunction with the Ministry of Cults and Religions, to conduct an urgent review, taking into account the measures set by the Ministry of Health. If we do not take action, the results we have achieved in the past may be ruin. It will be more widespread than expected before the festival because it is a contagious area since people everywhere go to the temple combining with the recent risk of delta variant.
This is a severe emergency during the 15 days of Kan Ben until the time of Pchum. Would tens of thousands be infected if there is a transmission at the pagoda? However, the problem does not end here when the people may bring the disease to their homes, which may be contagious. Almost every house at this time is a concern.
If possible, I call on the Ministry of Health to consider whether we should suspend this ceremony or reduce (participants) in any way possible. Given the way we are doing it, I think that no matter how we vaccinate, no matter what we do, we cannot avoid meeting at the pagoda, which is the most dangerous source of transmission.
I am distraught, so I send this voicemail to the Chief Monks, who are still in charge of each pagoda. At this stage, we can live the way we have lived in the past, without gathering in Kan Ben or throwing Bai Ben. It is a big concern, and I would like to ask His Excellency Aun Porn Moniroth, His Excellency Mam Bun Heng, and other relevant parties and the Minister of Cult to seriously consider this and our efforts to prevent this disease so that it can be declined. This infection will recover during the Pchum Ben season. If it is not yet reached, it must be controlled, but the so-called COVID-19 management is different from other problems because it is something invisible.
I am very concerned that after this Pchum Ben, the number of sick and dying people may increase, which may pose a severe risk to the nation, not only in cities but also in rural areas. Some rural areas are now experiencing the eruption of COVID-19, which could cancel our plan to reopen schools, as city dwellers now travel to the countryside and vice versa, especially to pagodas, which creates an area-to-area transmission without obstruction.
I urge Samdech Preah Sangha Reach, the Board of Monks, the Ministry of Cults and Religions, as well as the Chief monks of the pagodas, venerable, all over the country, to please understand the difficulties and take action on your own, as this task does not need an order from the high ups. Significantly, the Chief monks himself may block or receive through what we have done in the past, which means that we live in silence, without Kan Ben. And if it cannot be stopped, let the ceremony go on, but minimize people to come offering their food/gifts to the monks at the pagoda, and the monks should just proceed with a short ceremony. This is one of the options that may help us fight this terrible disease … it is enough. This way, we can also celebrate (our festivity) and also prevent this infectious disease.
I believe that all the venerable and monks will understand. After Pchum Ben, there will be no infectious diseases in the communities across the country coming from pagodas. The transmission across the country will destroy our efforts to prevent and make the situation once again severe, and no one will be able to help anyone because it will spread everywhere.
Venerable, please consider and give the Chief monks the right to do this work directly, because the Board of Monks could not control each pagoda since you are also the Chief Monks of the pagodas which need a festive meal in the meantime.
I am very anxious about what might happen to the future.