Ahead of Holiday, Drivers, Travelers Told to Take Covid-19 Precautions

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A driver sprays an alcohol solution on passengers boarding a bus from Phnom Penh to Pursat and Battambang provinces on August 9, 2020. (Nat Sopheap/VOD)

Before international visits to Cambodia picked up following restrictions on travel to the country, and within it for one week during the nation’s biggest holiday, passengers were wearing face masks and using hand sanitizer frequently, said Khim Borann, a general manager at Penh Chet Transportation company near Phnom Penh’s Deum Kor Market.

But in recent months, domestic travelers have stopped taking health precautions, he said. 

“In the beginning, [we] see most travelers wear face masks, but now, they stop wearing them,” Borann said. “They have become used to it and stopped being afraid.”

“We also advise them, but they do not wear them,” he added.

The nation’s Covid-19 cases have doubled to 251 since the government restricted inter-provincial travel for one week in April, and officially postponed the annual Khmer New Year public holiday in an effort to limit the potential for community-level transmission of the virus.

Now, ahead of the Khmer New Year holiday — which was rescheduled for next week and typically sees millions of Cambodians travel around the country to visit friends and family — the government is urging people to take basic health precautions before hitting the road. 

In a statement on Friday, Transportation Minister Sun Chanthol advised travelers, tour groups and drivers to observe social distancing and hygiene guidelines during the week of August 17 to 21. 

The ministry urged travelers to avoid using public or shared transportation in favor of their own means of transport. If people must use mass transit options, like buses and shared vans, travelers should wear face masks, use hand sanitizer and maintain 1.5 meters of distance from others, the ministry said.

The statement also advised drivers to keep vehicle windows open for fresh air, provide masks and hand sanitizer to passengers, and clean the insides of vehicles daily. Both passengers and drivers who develop a fever, cough, trouble breathing or other symptoms should suspend their plans and visit a state hospital, the statement said. 

Cambodia has reported 251 cases of Covid-19 since January, with 32 active cases. Since the government lifted international travel restrictions in late May, all new reported cases have been imported by arriving air travelers. 

On Sunday, Song Vathanak, a private driver who picks up passengers near Phnom Penh’s Olympic Market, said he already bought hand sanitizer and an electronic thermometer to check passengers each time they board his van.

“I am very careful before passengers get in the vehicle. I have to check their temperature first and if something is inappropriate, such as having a temperature higher than 37 degrees Celsius, I will not allow them to get in to prevent the transmission of Covid-19,” Vathanak said.

Heang Sotheayuth, a Transportation Ministry spokesperson, said transit companies could be punished and potentially lose their license if they do not follow proper health precautions.

“Covid issues affect the economy of the companies themselves,” he said. “If there is any carelessness or a company cannot control [health measures] and [Covid-19 infections] spread from any transportation vehicles, those companies will be held responsible.”

In order for the measures to be effective, Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development and Peace, urged the government to assign officials to ensure transportation companies were following through with the Health and Transport ministries’ guidelines. 

“If transportation companies do not follow, [the government] should suspend their transportation from then,” Kim Eng said. “If it is just an instruction, just a warning without action, I think it will be ineffective and it can cause a high risk for Covid-19 transmission during the upcoming holiday.”

As she boarded a taxi for Pursat province with her 2-year-old child in her arms, Seng Chetra told VOD that she didn’t wear a mask because she felt the drivers were already doing enough. 

“Before I wore a face mask too but now, I do not,” Chetra said. “It seems like nothing happened, nothing, because they sprayed alcohol and checked temperatures already, so [there is] nothing to be worried about.” 

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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