As Covid-19 cases reach record highs, Prime Minister Hun Sen spoke for over two hours about rapid test kits being hoarded in warehouses, ventilators going unused, using Chinese herbal medicines for prevention and buying up 80 percent of all coffins in stock around the country.
In a speech broadcast live online, Hun Sen said he was still in quarantine because his hairdresser was found to have Covid-19, and gave wide-ranging views and rebukes about the country’s coronavirus response.
Cambodia announced a record 1,130 new cases on Wednesday, followed by 999 on Thursday — the second highest daily total. It also reported 27 and 26 deaths on the two days, again the two highest tallies so far.
The country has seen a surge of cases since the “February 20” outbreak based on the U.K. — or Alpha — variant. But the more transmissible Delta variant has now been found in patients returning from Thailand, and Hun Sen warned of a possible “third wave” due to what he called the “very aggressive” strain.
People found with the Delta variant would be quarantined and treated separately, and made to isolate for an extra third week.
He said Cambodians currently in Thailand should not panic, as the two countries had reached an agreement that even illegal workers across the border would be treated and given legal status.
As for treatments, Cambodia would employ “Chinese medicines,” which had been successfully used in the Middle East, Hun Sen said.
Chinese state media Xinhua has noted the prevalent use of Lianhua Qingwen in Kuwait, a herbal medicine that the Chinese government has donated to Cambodia.
“I use it too, and I also take the Chinese medicine before I go anywhere, even though I am not sick but to prevent it,” the prime minister said.
Hun Sen also devoted time to speaking of coffins and cremations. He had already ordered the construction of crematoriums to handle new Covid-19 deaths, yet they had not been built, he said.
But officials can negotiate with monks and lay priests to use pagodas for burning Covid-19 bodies. Military police commander Sao Sokha, head of the country’s anti-timber trafficking committee, should use confiscated illegal wood to make new coffins. And the Finance Ministry must buy up 80 percent of all coffins in stock around the country to keep at hospitals, Hun Sen said.
“The ministries of environment, agriculture and His Excellency Sao Sokha, who crack down on forest crimes, search for where the wood is,” he said. Covid-19 corpses “should not be buried without a coffin or be cremated without a coffin, this should not happen for our people.”
But protected areas should not be plundered for wood for coffins, he added. “Do not use state land to use for burials or for wood for coffins, [don’t] take this opportunity to clear the land and cut wood. Do not commit this action.”
The country has seen just over 600 coronavirus deaths in total, with at most 27 deaths in one day. The country sees roughly 90,000 deaths a year, or about 250 a day.
Hun Sen also related various complaints he had heard about the official health response.
Some provinces were complaining of not having enough rapid test kits even as warehouses in the capital were full of them, he said. He had phoned Health Ministry director-general Youk Sambath about correcting the situation.
“I told her that I ordered their purchase for use, not to keep them to sleep with them in your arms,” he said. “Some provinces have complained about it: They ask for 3,000 and they give 1,000 or 2,000.”
“I told Her Excellency Youk Sambath that what you have done is no different from instructing an army and commanders to fight but they lack bullets and weapons. … So I am keeping my eyes on it.”
The situation was not limited to rapid test kits, he continued. “What’s the point of saving equipment, including ventilators? This or that tool — when I shout once, it comes out once. When I shout twice, it comes out twice. … It’s full in the warehouse but in the real battle it’s not there.”
The government needed to use the resources it had, he said. “There is no shortage of money and Hun Sen’s government has not reached the level of collapse due to Covid in this two-year period. We can survive,” he said. “Just bear in mind that the quicker we find, the quicker we can control human beings. This is the strategy. Why — you are doctors and the Ministry of Health, and you do not understand this work.”
“This time is not about blaming but it is the time to correct,” he said.
Hun Sen added that he had been in quarantine for two weeks and was due to leave on Friday after a final test.
He would be meeting guests — but not his hairdresser. “My hairdresser has been infected with Covid,” he said.