Cambodia on Tuesday passed a mandatory order for the cremation of all people who die of COVID-19.

The country has not reported any fatality from the virus so far, but Prime Minister Hun Sen said the decision was taken because the “COVID-19 situation in Cambodia has never been more critical and is still worsening,” according to a report by daily Phnom Penh Post.

In an audio statement, the premier asked crematoriums to prepare for a possible increase in demand for services as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the country has risen dramatically.

Cambodia, which has a majority Buddhist population, is the second country after Sri Lanka to ban the burial of bodies of virus victims.

Sri Lanka reversed its order for mandatory cremation last month, following outcry by its Muslim population, as well as other Muslim countries and rights groups, since cremation is forbidden in Islam.

According to official data, Muslims constitute approximately 2.1% of Cambodia’s 16.5 million people, but estimates by non-governmental organizations place the figure somewhere between 4% to 5%.

Cambodia’s total COVID-19 caseload currently stands at 1,060, including 538 recoveries.

There has been rise in infections, mostly linked to public events, over recent days, forcing authorities to take steps such as closing schools in the capital, Phnom Penh, and some other provinces.

‘Easy to manage’

Prime Minister Sen said the decision to cremate bodies of COVID-19 victims was taken after consultations with Health Minister Mam Bun Heng.

“Cambodians traditionally always burn or cremate the dead; it’s a method that is easy to manage. I also asked that crematoriums in the capital and provinces be organized in case deaths from COVID-19 occur in places where people might reside far away from any crematoriums,” the prime minister said.

The government will also issue a notification regarding new COVID-19 measures, he added.

“We also have to establish regulations on how quickly a corpse must be cremated after a death from COVID-19 that takes disease transmission into account,” Sen said.

The World Health Organization has previously rejected claims that bodies of people who have died of a communicable disease should be cremated, terming it “a common myth” that is “not true.”

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