Orn Ratha, 23, a resident of Sen Sok district’s Phnom Penh Thmey commune, says he feels liberated after his area entered “yellow”-level lockdown from Thursday.
For weeks, he ate instant noodles, canned fish and eggs. But now he can go back to work.
“I had a headache. I just ate and slept, ate and slept,” says Ratha, an employee at a company in the construction sector.
He understands the need for a lockdown in Phnom Penh, as Covid-19 cases continue to rise. The country recorded 880 new cases on Thursday, the worst day yet by more than 25 percent.
But he still appreciates the easing of restrictions in his area. “I’m happy because I can go back to work,” Ratha says.
A new three-color lockdown system was rolled out for Phnom Penh residents on Thursday, dividing the city into areas of de-escalating restrictions and stress — at least for now — and those with continued frustrations.
Office worker Sreng Sopheara, 26, is in an orange zone in the same district’s Kok Khleang commune.
He says he faces greater restrictions when it comes to going out of his house.
“I feel very complicated within this lockdown,” Sopheara says. “Normally, when we feel stressed, we can go out. But now we just stay inside the room.”
He shares a flat with two friends, and he is currently not getting paid. But rents and utility bills come as usual, he says.
In Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao III commune, village guards worked on Thursday to rope off each of the commune’s 14 villages, says commune chief Va Savoeun.
The commune is also marked orange in City Hall’s new three-color lockdown classifications, and as the new measures kicked in on Thursday, the commune saw a mixed bag of changes in movement restrictions, Savoeun says.
Metal barriers formerly set up by municipal police were dismantled, while tape was strung up by local authorities, he says. People need to stay inside their houses, and crossing between villages has been tightened, but movement in immediate neighborhoods is more relaxed, he says.
Orange zones require heightened vigilance, he says, even if they are not as severe as red zones.
Savoeun says that adding to the concerns is many people still thinking that the initial two-week lockdown was over after April 28.
“Today there are more people on the street because it was the deadline of the government’s [original] lockdown,” he says.
Phnom Penh’s lockdown has now been extended to at least May 5.
Choam Chao III has found 66 people with Covid-19, and now it is up to residents to bring the number down and ease the area’s lockdown, he says.
But he still gets reports of drinking parties, which local authorities immediately crack down on.
“Since the Covid-19 cases in our area are not receding, the government continues the lockdown,” he says.
The commune has about 50-60,000 people in its 14 villages, including 15,000 workers’ accommodations, he says. Local officials are allowing people to sell some food in front of their homes as long as they maintain social distancing and follow other health measures.
In Phnom Penh Thmey, the yellow-zone commune in Sen Sok, commune chief Chum Sary says barrier tapes have come down across his area.
“I’ve cut down all the ropes blocking the roads, and allow them to travel in general. There is no ban,” Sary says.
Evening curfews remain in place from 8 p.m., and he has some concerns about sellers traveling around with their carts becoming potential disease vectors, Sary says.
“Yesterday, the traffic was not busy. But today, [it] is a bit busier,” he says.
His commune has six villages of about 30,000 people in all, and three markets that remain closed. The markets are being disinfected, however, with the hope of allowing vendors to return in due course, he says.
In Boeng Keng Kang district’s Boeng Keng Kang I commune, also a yellow zone, the market remained closed on Thursday but a smattering of stores around it were open around 3 p.m., selling clothes, phones and doing motorbike repairs.
The situation was similar in yellow-zone Toul Tom Poung I, in Chamkarmon district. Sellers who normally trade at the market were instead spread down Street 155, which runs past the closed market. Around 6 p.m., the street had around 15 stalls along it with two to three vendors at each.
Nouch, selling fruit, says Thursday saw a few more people out and about, buying food and coffee or doing exercise.
“It is very good to see that authorities allow people to travel in this area so it is easy for us to sell our products and earn money,” she says. Her open-air stall on the street is safer than being inside the market, she adds.
Lyna, a vegetable seller stationed near the Toul Tom Poung market, says she is nervous that local authorities might come to confiscate her wares.
“When they come, we move away. When they’ve gone, we come back,” she says.
Sun Sopheak, selling fish, says doing business is still hard when many areas of the city face travel restrictions. But even in the yellow zone authorities are keeping close watch on potential hazards, he says.
“We can’t just do anything freely,” he says.
Soeung Chantheng, selling bread, says residents must cope for a little longer.
“There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s not only us but also other people who have experienced this too. So we have to endure this until it is over,” she says.
Red Zone Rules
- Buying food, groceries and pharmaceuticals. (Up to three times a week.)
- Medical reasons.
- Exercise with two or fewer people.
- Diplomats and journalists.
- Prior permission from authorities.
- Markets, grocery stores and restaurants for delivery, as approved by authorities.
- Pharmacies and other essential services, as approved by authorities.
- Hotels and guesthouses, with up to 2 percent staffing.
- Public services and utilities, with up to 2 percent staffing.
- Factories producing medical equipment or food.
- Other necessary work as approved by authorities.
- Delivery of food and groceries.
- Family members who live together.
- Funerals organized with local authorities.
- Covid-19 testing and other medical activities.
- Karaoke clubs, bars and beer gardens.
- Amusement parks, cinemas, theaters and museums.
- Gyms, sports centers and massage parlors.
- Liquor stores.
A map and list of lockdown areas are also available here.