A mask-wearing scout carries balloons during a ceremony at the Independence Monument marking Cambodia's Independence Day in Phnom Penh on Nov. 9. (Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has extended public restrictions by a month to curb the spread of Covid-19, saying this country’s first community outbreak is under control but has not yet ended.
He also said there was no need to declare a state of emergency, which would further damage the economy, and announced more cash payments for the poor, which are being funded by a US$200 million pool set aside earlier this year.
“As the situation has not eased yet, on behalf of the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), I have decided to announce the fourth round of the cash transfer scheme for another three months — from January to March 2021,” Hun Sen said in a national address on Dec. 15.
“The RGC does not marginalize the poor. The RGC will not let any people die of starvation without our knowledge and help.”
To date, more than $160 million has been allocated to more than 700,000 poor and vulnerable families under the cash transfer program.
Cambodia initiated a series of measures on Dec. 4 following its first community outbreak of Covid-19, canceling all unnecessary gatherings and meetings including weddings, religious events, parties, sports and group exercise. Any gathering deemed essential is to be limited to 20 people.
Unless engaged in essential business, the public have been directed to stay at home. All universities and schools, public and private, have closed.
Businesses including karaoke, cinemas, clubs, bars, spas, massage facilities and gyms/fitness centers have closed. Malls and skyscrapers where outbreaks have occurred have also closed before being deemed fit for reopening.
A decision on whether to end those restrictions was expected by Dec. 16 but Hun Sen said the decision had been postponed and would now be made between Jan. 11 and 20.
He said Cambodia would combat the virus “through the efforts of the authorities at all levels, especially the participation of our citizens,”
Cambodia has emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic and even now the numbers of confirmed cases remain small compared with elsewhere.
Cambodia has confirmed 362 Covid-19 cases with 312 recoveries and no deaths. Nearly all cases were among people who arrived by international flight.
However, 41 people have tested positive amid the community outbreak which emerged after last month’s diplomatic visit by Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto, who also tested positive.
Seasonally cooler weather amid the outbreak has also raised concerns.
Hun Sen also appealed for tolerance, saying those who contract the potentially deadly virus should not be discriminated against, noting that they were victims of the pandemic.
Cambodia has also ordered one million doses of Covid-19 vaccines through COVAX, the global vaccine alliance, which must be recognized by the World Health Organization.
However, Hun Sen added that the WHO had not recognized any vaccines yet and added: “Cambodia is not a dustbin … and is not a place for a vaccine trial.”
He said Cambodia would need 26 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to vaccinate about 13 million people out of a population of 16 million. Vaccines will be provided free of charge.