Authorities Foil Exodus From Red Zones as 104 People on 32 Vans Nabbed

3 min read
A military truck drives alongside a motorbike on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Blvd on May 11, 2021. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)
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More than 100 drivers and red-zone residents on dozens of vans were stopped from leaving Phnom Penh, and two of them later tested positive for Covid-19, authorities said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesperson San Sokseyha said 32 vans and one tuk-tuk were all stopped at once around 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

“The red zone absolutely bans them from leaving, but they turned to their phones or whatever to make contact. They contacted taxi vans to come and pick them up with the aim of going to the provinces,” Sokseyha said, calling their actions a “red-handed crime.”

Some 104 people — 49 residents, mostly workers, and 55 drivers and assistants — were quarantined at a Pur Senchey district secondary school. Two were found positive for Covid-19, he said.

Sokseyha added he was not sure what action would be taken against them yet.

Traffic was returning to a busy normal across the city, especially in yellow zones, and authorities were keeping a close watch, he said.

“Most of the people understand. If they are in orange and red [zones], they will not leave,” he said. “Most people are participating in following [the measures], but there is still a small portion who have not cooperated much or obeyed. … If such cases keep happening, the pandemic will be difficult.”

Kang Vorng, commune chief of Pur Senchey’s Choam Chao I, which still has some areas designated as red zones, said on Tuesday that the vans had been stopped while moving through the area on Veng Sreng Blvd.

His officials had seen people with luggage boarding the vans along the arterial road, which runs through the city’s main garment factory and Covid-19 outbreak areas. Residents were walking out of small side streets from red-zone areas onto Veng Sreng Blvd., he said.

“They took a chance,” Vorng said, adding that they might have looked in advance for areas with less police presence.

After questioning, some of the residents said they had planned to go to Prey Veng province, he said.

“They still do not fear. We don’t understand,” Vorng said. Police and soldiers have tried to spread the message, but crowds were forming for various reasons. Red-zone residents in recent weeks have protested for vaccines, reduced rents and food aid.

“We can’t see the infection,” he said. “If we can’t stop it and it spreads to the provinces, and there is a problem in the provinces … they will criticize the authorities in Phnom Penh that [we] don’t know how to work.”

“If we let them go to the provinces and they have a problem in the provinces, we will [need to] take responsibility.”

As lockdown restrictions were eased across most of the capital last week, traffic jams formed on at least one major road leading out of the city, and provincial authorities said they were on alert for the potential spread of Covid-19.

The Health Ministry reported 480 new cases on Tuesday alongside 350 recoveries and five deaths, pushing the country’s total number of cases since the disease’s emergence last year to over 20,000.

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