No Pchum Ben Holiday for Cambodia’s Frontline Workers

Representational photo from TYDA

As cases continue to rise at an unknown rate, volunteer doctors are feeling the strain on Pchum Ben after nearly two years of skipping holidays at home to treat COVID-19 patients

PHNOM PENH--Across the country, Cambodians celebrate the 2021 Pchum Ben holidays, but for Cambodia’s volunteer medical staff, there has been no respite from the COVID-19 pandemic. While most will be spending time with families in the coming days, Cambodia’s doctors have only each other and COVID-19 patients for company this holiday.

For Horm Soriya, a 25-year-old volunteer doctor, this year’s Pchum Ben holiday will not be spent at home with her family—rather, she will be serving at Premier Center, which has been converted to a makeshift COVID-19 treatment facility in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok District.

Instead of looking after her parents, she will spend this holiday caring for strangers.

“We are medical doctors, so we are already used to not spending much time with family. However, we still miss home and our parents, especially as they are old,” Soriya said.

Like Soriya, Yurt Chheng Y said that he misses his family, especially over the holidays. He has not been able to visit his hometown for almost two years already, but Chheng Y is happy to use his skills to help other Cambodians.

“It is our desire to work here and to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 in our country even though it can be exhausting,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already placed an immense burden on the country’s frontline workers, but volunteer doctors like Um Kunthea said that, while she misses her family in Kandal Province and has not been home for a long time, she couldn’t sit at home and relax knowing that people need her help.

Kunthea is, like all of the volunteers, committed to her mission and while Pchum Ben should be a time for relaxation and family, she said she is happy to be there for patients who need her.

“I was scared at first, knowing that the virus can spread very fast and is extremely harmful to lives. However, when I see the patients, I feel pity for them. And their condition would get worse if there were no doctors or nurses who can look after them,” she added.

Unable to visit in person, Kunthea and the other doctors are relying on technology to stay connected with their families this year as the pandemic rages on.

Cambodia’s official count of new COVID-19 cases has dropped significantly in recent days after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered that rapid test results not be counted.

As such, on Oct. 5, the Ministry of Health announced that there were just 228 new COVID-19 cases identified in Cambodia and an additional 12 people died from COVID-19, but it is now impossible to know the real number of cases nationwide.

The death toll so far stands at 2,418 and while the Ministry of Health said that the number of recorded cases has reached 113,703 as of Oct. 5, many more cases are suspected to be going unreported following Hun Sen’s order.

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