Buddhist monks collect food for lunch during the Pchum Ben Festival (festival of death) at a pagoda in Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Sept. 22. (Photo: AFP)
Cambodia will totally reopen on all fronts in two weeks if daily Covid-19 case numbers remain at current levels, Prime Minister Hun Sen said today as the annual Pchum Ben Festival draws to a close.
He said a decision not to impose travel restrictions during the festival — when Khmers traditional return to their villagers to honor their ancestors — had provided a crucial test
“This is our great test to reopen the country in all areas,” Hun Sen said in a statement published by the government-friendly online portal Fresh News.
“If in 10 to 15 days, Cambodia's Covid-19 infection and death rates remain low, I think it is time for us to reopen socioeconomic activities in all areas and to live the new normal and strictly follow health and safety measures,” Hun Sen said.
Case numbers were rising dramatically and peaked at almost 1,000 on Sept. 30 before Hun Sen ordered an end to widespread rapid testing, saying people simply have to learn to live with the disease.
Since then daily numbers, as recorded through PCR lab testing, have fallen to around 200 cases with little clarification from authorities who, until recently, were dealing with a healthcare system that was on the red line, meaning close to exhaustion.
Lockdowns and red zones in the provinces have already ended but bans on alcohol sales and many public venues remain
To date, Cambodia has confirmed 114,351 cases of Covid-19 with 106,839 recoveries and 2,459 deaths. The Health Ministry today confirmed 203 cases for the previous 24 hours.
Lockdowns and red zones in the provinces have already ended with travel restrictions lifted amid Pchum Ben, but bans on alcohol sales and many public venues remain.
Sources say factions among government and business elites are demanding a return to normal and an opening of airports to foreign arrivals in an effort to revive the economy.
Their calls have been helped by Cambodia’s rollout of its vaccination program, which has been widely praised. According to Our World in Data, 80 percent of this country’s 16.72 million people have received at least one jab and 66 percent are fully inoculated.
In a separate statement, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said it had approved US$30 million in financing to help strengthen Cambodia’s health system.
The assistance includes a $25 million loan as additional financing for the Greater Mekong Subregion Health Security Project.
The ADB said this would boost laboratory services and infection prevention control at 81 provincial and district referral hospitals and improve disease surveillance and response systems, Covid-19 outbreak management and contact tracing.
The ADB will also administer a $5 million grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction to improve emergency care at 14 provincial hospitals. This includes funding for new equipment such as ambulances, oxygen plants and oxygen therapy devices as well as health staff training.
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