Hun Sen Suggests End to Mask Mandate

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Prime Minister Hun Sen views an infrastructure project poster in Siem Reap province during a speech on April 4, 2022. (Hun Sen’s Facebook page)

Cambodian provinces could begin easing requirements to wear Covid-19 face masks, Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested in a speech on Monday, citing costs for people and the reality that many gatherings are already taking place without masks.

The Health Ministry and a provincial spokesperson said they were studying the suggestion and preparing to potentially take action.

Hun Sen, speaking in Siem Reap city on Monday, raised the idea of reducing mask-wearing and said the measure could be rolled out province-by-province, suggesting remote Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear provinces as potential early implementers. People would still need to wear masks if they cross from a non-mask-wearing province to a mask-wearing province.

“At any time, we can use the method of ending the use of masks in one province or two provinces in order to test it,” Hun Sen said.

Masks can be costly for people considering how often they need to be changed, Hun Sen said, adding that other countries had already dropped the requirement to wear masks.

“Some of them did it while there’s strong spreading. For us it’s very low spread these days,” he said of Covid-19. According to official statistics, Cambodia has seen only around 30 to 50 new cases a day over the past week.

And the reality was that people were already mingling without masks, Hun Sen said. In Phnom Penh, he had an official observe a karaoke parlor “and saw no one wearing a mask.”

“They partied hard till 3 in the morning but there was still no spreading.”

Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said she could not comment yet as the prime minister had just raised the idea, and health authorities needed time to discuss it. The ministry’s health director, Hok Kimcheng, also said that discussions were currently underway.

In Oddar Meanchey, one of Hun Sen’s proposed provinces to test the policy, deputy governor Dy Rado said dropping the requirement to wear masks would cut down on people’s spending, and people would be more comfortable when going out. Rado said authorities would not resist an order, and would be prepared to inform people about the change in policy.

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