A monk and people pray in front of a Buddha statue during the Meak Bochea Buddhist celebrations at a pagoda in Phnom Penh on Jan. 28. (Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)
Defense Minister General Tea Banh has become the first known person in Cambodia to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus after the Ministry of Health announced it had authorized the use of China's Sinopharm vaccine.
He had already received the jab with the first batch of 600,000 Sinopharm doses expected to arrive in Cambodia on Feb. 7 and the process of inoculating up to 80 percent of the population to begin on Feb. 10 at Calmete Hospital in Phnom Penh, the Khmer Times reported.
China has promised more than one million doses of Sinopharm.
Prime Minister Hun Sen had initially volunteered to be the first to be vaccinated but will now be the first to take the shot at Calmete Hospital, followed by other senior officials.
Approval for the vaccine was issued as Hun Sen ordered all authorities and armed forces to tighten border controls with Vietnam, where authorities are dealing with another Covid-19 community outbreak.
“Now our big concern is the Covid-19 outbreak in Vietnam from the north to the central and southern part, close to Cambodia,” he said.
“I want all provinces along the Vietnamese border — from Kampot to Ratanakiri — to take immediate action to inspect and quarantine people crossing the border. If we are negligent, our country will suffer from Covid-19 both from Thailand and Vietnam.”
There are concerns the pandemic could spread further ahead of the annual Tet festivities, which get underway next week when Vietnamese, including those living in Cambodia, traditionally head back to their home villages.
In the latest community transmission, Vietnam recorded nine cases in its central and northern provinces, with the biggest cluster in Hanoi. That takes the toll from the outbreak of the more contagious British variant to 310.
“The new variant is spreading fast — we have to be faster,” Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said.
Vietnam has confirmed 1,948 cases of the Covid virus with 1,461 recovered and 35 deaths. Cambodia has fared better with 470 confirmed cases, 452 recoveries and no deaths. Nearly all cases in Cambodia were recorded among people arriving from abroad.
Authorities in Vietnam also said the Health Ministry intended to bolster the number of Covid-19 tests to 40,000 a day in Hanoi. It has recently been conducting 5,000 tests per day.
Authorities said the pandemic could be complicated further by ethnic Vietnamese returning to Cambodia once the Tet celebrations conclude on Feb. 16.
Cambodia has also enlisted the help of Australia, which is prepared to fund 1.5 million inoculations, and has sought further vaccines from India and the Covax facility being sponsored by the World Health Organization.