Phnom Penh has faced several lockdowns to tackle Covid-19. (Photo: Luke Hunt/UCA News)
The United States has gifted Cambodia US$11 million to bolster its Covid-19 vaccination program, which is accelerating across the country with 2 million people already inoculated.
Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn thanked US ambassador Patrick Murphy, saying close cooperation between the country’s Health Ministry and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US was key to curbing the pandemic.
Funding will be used to acquire vaccinations through the Covax facility being run by the World Health Organization (WHO). Cambodia plans to vaccinate about 10 million citizens out of a population of 16 million by the end of the year.
The US has provided more than $4 billion in funding for the WHO global initiative.
A sense of urgency is accompanying Cambodia’s rollout after a third community outbreak on Feb. 20, with 23,282 coronavirus cases now confirmed, 14,955 recoveries and 159 deaths. Confirmed cases were less than 500 prior to the outbreak.
The surge resulted in severe lockdowns in capital Phnom Penh, a ban on inter-provincial travel and alcohol sales, and curfews that disrupted food distribution and resulted in some price gouging.
This humanitarian act will help people have food to fight hunger and gradually stabilize their lives
Many of those restrictions have been eased despite new daily cases still exceeding 300, but health authorities are optimistic, noting the number of recoveries currently exceeds the number of new cases being reported.
Among the hardest hit are impoverished Vietnamese living along Cambodia’s eastern frontier, who are receiving aid and food packages through their embassy in Phnom Penh.
“This humanitarian act will help people have food to fight hunger and gradually stabilize their lives,” Tran Van Nam, chairman of the Khmer-Vietnam Association in Preah Sihanouk province, told the Vietnam News.
He also urged people to stop attempts to return to their homeland “to avoid causing more difficulties for domestic forces who are straining against the pandemic.”
Preah Sihanouk, along the southern coast, is among the hardest-hit provinces and one observer said life in the region was difficult given the state of the economy.
“This area relies heavily on tourism and cross-border traffic with Vietnam, I don’t think life will ever go back to what it was,” he said.
A further 500,000 doses of Sinovac vaccine, which Cambodia purchased from China, arrived in Cambodia on May 16 and Australia has also committed more than $20 million through the Covax facility to help Cambodia’s vaccination effort.
The donation came amid reports that unscrupulous people were attempting to charge money for vaccination shots. Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said offenders would be pursued by the authorities.
“People get jabs free of charge and Prime Minister Hun Sen has always paid attention to monitoring vaccinations,” she told reporters, adding that the ad-hoc vaccination committee strictly oversaw the process.
Police broke up a drink and drugs party in Phnom Penh on May 18 and arrested more than 60 foreign nationals, the Khmer Times reported.
They found more than 60 male and female suspects, all Chinese and Vietnamese. Police discovered alcohol in defiance of the government’s ban on drinking as well as narcotics and drugs paraphernalia. The suspects also appeared not to be wearing masks.