A woman wearing a face mask to protect against the coronavirus pulls her cart loaded with recyclable materials along a street in Phnom Penh on March 8. (Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)
Cambodians have been ordered to stay home and all gatherings have been suspended immediately by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who sent a “special and urgent” message overnight following another outbreak of the coronavirus.
“As of 9pm this evening close to 50 more Covid-19 positive cases have been found. The new cases are in Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk, Kandal and Prey Veng,” he said on March 8 in an address to the nation.
“This result is not final yet because samples are still being checked by the machine.”
The health ministry, which has issued updates on case numbers every day since the pandemic erupted almost a year ago, did not do so on March 9.
Cambodia has emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic but the latest numbers mean confirmed cases have surpassed 1,000 and more than half of those have been recorded since the “February 20 Event” blamed on four Chinese women who allegedly escaped quarantine after bribing security guards and went out partying.
One person diagnosed with Covid-19 has died but authorities said the Chinese national was a drug addict and had died of a heart attack caused by withdrawal symptoms while in quarantine.
Almost all confirmed cases were Chinese, Cambodians or Vietnamese and Hun Sen said the latest 50 included police officers, civil servants and artists.
The PM ordered the legislature, all ministries and state institutions to suspend on-site work, leaving only a small number of workers while others were told to work from home where possible.
He said all public and private institutions were to cease activities or reduce the number of workers by 90 percent for seven days. People were urged to stay home and wear a mask if going out on essential business.
Highways to provincial towns have been closed. Hotels are being converted into quarantine centers equipped with medical facilities including intensive care units and ventilators staffed by doctors.
Cambodia has begun vaccinating its population against the disease and was among the first countries to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine through the Covax facility, which was largely funded by Australia. China has donated a million doses of its Sinopharm vaccine.
The government has said it intends to inoculate 10 million people out of a total population of 16 million and that foreigners will be able to access vaccines as the rollout gathers pace.
“The current situation requires more caution than before, and what is not necessary can be suspended,” Hun Sen said. “This is an urgent situation and care must be taken not to spread the disease.”