Covid-19 Case Details Withheld, Market Closures Extended a Week

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A woman walks by the Health Ministry in Phnom Penh on January 29, 2020 (Panha Chorpoan/VOD)
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The Health Ministry is withholding Covid-19 case details under leaders’ instructions, as they are kept at the provincial level, preparing them nationally could take too long, neighboring countries also give only broad totals, and officials want to do more analysis, a spokesperson said.

Since Wednesday, the ministry has been releasing only total and new daily figures for cases, recoveries and deaths, rather than how many are in each province. Previously, the ministry also disclosed gender, age and nationality information.

Ministry spokesperson Hok Kimcheng said the details were kept at a lower level than the ministry.

“The ministry’s leaders have thought about this, and since the management of the patients are under the municipal and provincial local health [institutions], the information that the ministry does is a kind of general total,” Kimcheng said.

The summaries of only totals were easier, and compiling daily details could take longer than a day, he added.

“We need more time to collect data, to do more analysis, so we want this information to be released on time and regularly,” Kimcheng said. “Partly, we have seen our neighboring country also issue in short form, just figures.”

Cambodia’s daily Covid-19 cases have steadily risen over the past two months. When the “February 20” cluster first emerged, new cases rarely numbered over 100. This week, the country recorded 938 cases in one day.

“The leaders have instructed to do just this first. Wait and see if there is any change,” Kimcheng said. “I have seen and know about this. Our brothers want details.”

Ministry figures this week have also failed to add up. On May 5, the ministry announced the country had 6,019 recoveries. On May 6, it said there were 6,843 recoveries, a difference of 824. But the ministry only announced 739 new recoveries on that day.

Kimcheng said his team knew about the error of 85 missing recoveries and had corrected it, but would not say where or when the discrepancy arose.

“It is correct again already. You just follow that,” he said.

Lockdowns in Phnom Penh and Kandal province’s Takhmao city have been relaxed this week despite the record rise in cases, as Prime Minister Hun Sen said the lockdown period had been difficult for people and it was time to return to work.

The most restrictive “red zone” areas had seen small protests as residents said they were going hungry and sought food aid. Markets were closed down across Phnom Penh and Takhmao, and many people have been unable to work or earn a living.

The recent outbreak has been centered around markets and factories, and some industrial areas are also among the locations still kept under strictest lockdowns.

On Thursday, Phnom Penh City Hall announced that all markets would remain closed for at least another week.

Several market sellers said the additional week of closures would be difficult. They had no income and still had to pay their rents, other bills and microfinance loans, they said.

Sim At, a vegetable seller at the Doeum Kor wholesale market, said she had nothing left for emergencies.

“If a child is sick or someone is in danger, there is not a single riel to go to the hospital,” said At, a 37-year-old mother of three.

Ly Dany, a street vendor, said her debt was what concerned her.

“Immediately as the road was reopened, the bank officer showed up yesterday already,” Dany said.

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