Covid-19 Cases Sharply Decline After Hun Sen Orders New Policy

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Hun Sen speaks to provincial officials on July 1 ordering the purchase of coffins and herbal remedies while also chastising them over the hoarding of rapid tests in warehouses, in a photo posted to his Facebook page.

Cambodia saw a sharp decrease in Covid-19 cases after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a scaling back of rapid testing, as Siem Reap province ended QR code scanning at its borders and Preah Vihear lifted its red zones.

On Friday, the Health Ministry announced 232 positive Covid-19 cases, down from 978 cases the previous day and by far the lowest total in months.

In its announcement, the Health Ministry noted that the positive results were all confirmed by PCR lab testing.

The Health Ministry has not responded to clarify whether rapid test results were included in its previous totals. It has repeatedly not answered questions about testing and case disclosures.

However, the total of daily positive rapid tests announced by individual provinces have consistently been higher than the ministry’s national figure — even as Phnom Penh and major provinces stopped disclosing their case counts. The ministry stopped revealing locations of new cases months ago.

Hun Sen said in a July speech that suspected Covid-19 cases found by rapid tests at the country’s borders should then be confirmed by lab tests, but it is unclear whether this was practiced universally.

The World Health Organization’s weekly situation reports list the Health Ministry’s numbers as “confirmed” cases, and are listed beside the number of PCR lab tests. It also gives a positivity rate that correlates to the Health Ministry’s cases divided by total PCR lab tests. But they do not explicitly say that all announced cases were confirmed by PCR lab tests.

The WHO in Cambodia has not responded to questions, including whether it supports the new policy of reducing contact tracing.

The drop in cases came after Hun Sen sent an audio message to his officials Wednesday night about “learning to live with Covid-19” by ending widespread rapid testing. Only people who show symptoms should be tested, he said, a policy that would amount to an apparent end in contact tracing.

“For those who do not have any problems, we don’t need to do a rapid test for them because this is the way of learning to live with Covid-19. Otherwise, their noses will be damaged,” Hun Sen said in the audio message.

Covid-19 cases plunged on Friday after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a scale back of rapid testing, leading to a relaxation of restrictions in the provinces.
Covid-19 cases plunged on Friday after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a scale back of rapid testing, leading to a relaxation of restrictions in the provinces. (Michael Dickison/VOD)

Meanwhile, the Siem Reap provincial administration announced that it was removing health checkpoints for people entering the province, and arrivals would no longer be required to scan QR codes. The announcement followed the lifting of red zones in the province on Thursday, despite five more villages being locked down just this week.

The provincial hall’s new statement informed travel companies and the public that Siem Reap authorities were ending checks on roads into Kampong Thom, Banteay Meanchey and Oddar Meanchey provinces.

Similarly, the Preah Vihear provincial administration issued a statement that it was lifting all red zones. The province had just introduced new red zones for two weeks on Wednesday.

Battambang deputy provincial governor Soeum Bunrith told VOD on Thursday that he had been told in the past month to stop reporting the number of infections in the province.

“As a provincial spokesman, I was advised [that Covid-19 information should] go in and out through a one-window gate. So, if you want to know, you can contact and ask the Ministry of Health spokesperson.”

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