Hun Sen Wants Rapid Testing Scaled Back as Country Adjusts to New Normal

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Prime Minister Hun Sen receives a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital on March 4, 2021. (AKP)

Prime Minister Hun Sen instructed provincial officials to be more judicious in the use of rapid Covid-19 tests and to test only those who exhibited clear symptoms of the disease, according to an audio clip sent by the prime minister and heard by VOD.

The prime minister’s audio instructions were confirmed by at least three government officials and comes as the country has seen a recent rise in Covid-19 cases, with close to 1,000 cases reported on Thursday.

Hun Sen said that as part of learning to live with Covid-19, only people with clear symptoms of Covid-19 should be given rapid tests, which are to be confirmed with more accurate PCR tests.

He said people with no symptoms had been testing positive, and given that the country has a high rate of vaccination, these cases need not be detected.

“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 clip, an apparent reference to nose swabs.

The directive comes 10 weeks after the government urged private institutions and offices to test at least 5 to 10 percent of their staff once every one to two weeks to ensure early detection of cases.

The prime minister said people were complaining about nose swabs and that health workers should focus on people who need medical treatment and not those who are asymptomatic.

“When someone does not have any illness, we make them take medicine, make them stay at home, waste their work, and we also waste forces, funds and more medical forces.”

“The important thing to focus on is the treatment … and when they have tested and found to have a problem, we need to quickly treat them.”

Cambodia has among the highest Covid-19 vaccination rates with 83 percent of the population having received at least one shot. Children from ages 6 to 17 are being vaccinated.

Kandal governor Kong Sophorn said he received the message from Hun Sen late Wednesday and had already passed on the instructions to provincial officials.

“Those who have symptoms, we will do a rapid test and conduct a PCR test. If we find Covid-19, we will treat it immediately,“ he said. 

Sophorn said the previous approach to identify Covid-19 cases was “broad” and created amid the earlier fears of the pandemic. Hun Sen’s latest medical instructions were better in the current situation when most people were vaccinated, he said.

Soeum Bunrith, Battambang provincial deputy governor, also received the directive and said rapid tests had been used “broadly” to identify cases in places like markets. He said that would stop with the new instructions. Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour also said Hun Sen’s approach would be adopted, and the ministry would have further details on Friday.

Siem Reap deputy governor Ly Samreth said officials were not suspending the use of rapid tests, just targeting them to those with symptoms.

“The content [of the message] does not mean suspension, but means it will be used on identified people but not used generally,” he said.

On Thursday, the province lifted all orange and red zones, though it kept 9 p.m. curfews in place.

Samreth said the province was doing better following the recent surge of cases there.

“We don’t know when Covid-19 will be gone. So we have to learn to live with Covid,” Samreth said.


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