Students wearing face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 walk on an overpass on their way to school in Phnom Penh on Feb. 1. (Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)
Cambodian efforts to inoculate 80 percent of its population against the Covid-19 pandemic are gathering pace, with Australia emerging as its biggest donor with a pledge of US$28 million to help vaccinate 1.5 million people.
The pledge was announced by the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh and the Cambodian government on Feb. 1 and will enable inoculations through a Covax facility to be approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“As a neighbor and long-standing friend of Cambodia, we are pleased to be able to lend a hand in this time of need,” Australian ambassador Pablo Kang said.
China has promised one million doses of its Sinopharm vaccine for 500,000 Cambodians, which requires two jabs for each person. They are expected to be available later this month and are favored because they can be stored at temperatures of 2-8 degrees Celsius. Some other vaccines require storage temperatures of at least minus 70C.
On a recent regional tour, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also promised vaccines for Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines amid claims China is using vaccination for diplomatic leverage with vaccine deliveries also tied to trade and investment deals.
Cambodia has also asked India to contribute vaccines that can be stored at up to 18C.
“We are grateful for Australia’s support, which will help us meet critical needs of our people and economy,” said Aun Pornmoniroth, Cambodia’s deputy prime minister.
“We applaud Australia and her people for their solidarity and commitment in jointly fighting against this pandemic so that we can recover and prosper together.”
Cambodia has emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic with just 466 confirmed Covid-19 cases. Nearly all were among people arriving from abroad, either across land borders or by air. To date, there have been 443 recoveries and no deaths.
Foreign assistance packages are in addition to vaccines Cambodia will receive from the multilateral WHO-Covax, which hopes to cover about 3 percent of populations within the world’s poorest countries within the first six months of 2021.
Kang said that although Cambodia has so far avoided serious health impacts from the pandemic, widespread vaccination remains critical for preventing future outbreaks and rebuilding economic activity.
He also said the Australian package would also help Cambodia to distribute and administer vaccines, to monitor the safety and efficacy of vaccinations, and to ensure Cambodians have access to clear information about the vaccination process.
“In recognition that nobody is safe until everyone is safe, our support is likely to help vaccinate at least 1.5 million Cambodians and will go a long way towards supporting widespread access to WHO-approved vaccines in Cambodia,” Kang added.