Hundreds of people have been caught violating the countrywide inter-provincial travel ban, landing them in quarantine, including one man fined $250 after fleeing quarantine in Kandal and traveling to Pursat.
In Kampong Chhnang province, about 200 people have been put in quarantine following their arrival after the April 6 travel ban, made amid the country’s worst Covid-19 outbreak to date.
“Even after our instructions and explanations people still keep coming,” said provincial health department director Prak Von. One of the violators had escaped Covid-19 quarantine in Phnom Penh, he said. “We will make a report and it is up to Phnom Penh to make a decision on whether to fine them or not.”
In Prey Veng, nearly 100 people had been caught violating the travel ban as of Tuesday, said deputy governor Chan Tha.
They had been tested, and six were found positive for Covid-19, Tha said. Five were from Phnom Penh and one from Preah Sihanouk.
Many would drive to near the provincial border, then walk across a bridge as if they were locals, he said.
“They pretend to have been walking, and it is difficult for the authorities,” Tha said.
Kampong Cham provincial administration chief Khorn Pros said he was exasperated with the deceptions of the new arrivals.
“When we ask them which factories they’ve come from, they hide the information from us and tell us they’ve forgotten to bring their cards,” Pros said.
“Even when we’ve asked their parents to tell them not to come, they still come. And even when we’ve closed the traffic like this. This is too much, and they don’t cooperate, and now people are afraid of people.”
About 50 arrivals from Phnom Penh had been placed in quarantine, he said. Many refused to believe what authorities were telling them, instead “believing social media, especially Facebook and opposition leaders,” Pros said.
“Their expression poisons society,” he said.
Provincial health director Kimsour Phirun added that many of the quarantined arrivals had been from Phnom Penh Covid-19 hotspots like Stung Meanchey and O’Russei market. Others deemed lower risk were being quarantined at their homes, Phirun said.
Despite the passage of a Covid-19 Law that allows jail terms for violations of health measures, just one man is known to have so far faced penalties for violating the countrywide travel ban.
Moeung Sophorn traveled from Kandal province to Pursat despite being a Covid-19 contact and required to stay in quarantine, said Pursat administration director Nget Seila.
Sophorn tested negative so he was merely fined $250, Seila said.
Battambang provincial administration spokesperson Soeum Bunrith said authorities would not be lenient.
“You are breaking the law, and if you come with Covid-19, we must follow the law, and we cannot forgive. If we forgive, then people will not fear the law,” he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen also talked tough in a speech on Saturday, saying the country would create a special Covid-19 court to quickly try violators.
“Do not let them say that our law was created just to make a threat,” Hun Sen said.
In a statement, U.N. representatives cautioned against potential human rights violations due to Cambodia’s “harsh new legal and administrative measures.”
They said at least four people had been arrested under Covid-19 laws — likely including men arrested over TikTok videos making false warnings about vaccines.
“Restrictions on fundamental freedoms and rights on public health grounds must not breach rights and freedoms guaranteed by international human rights law, and they must be proportionate, non-discriminatory, time-bound and purpose limited,” the U.N. experts said.
They also warned about economic hardships for vulnerable people due to Phnom Penh’s night curfew and the nationwide travel ban, calling for relief measures.
“In light of the rising indebtedness in Cambodia, these measures will further hurt people in most vulnerable situations, who have already suffered significant economic hardship during the pandemic. It risks pushing them into poverty,” the experts said.
In Takeo province, just ahead of the travel ban, a man drove with his wife on a motorbike from Phnom Penh while his Covid-19 test result was still pending.
He was found to be positive, and infected four people before being sent back to a Phnom Penh hospital, according to Takeo provincial administration director Nuth Sinath.
Sinath pleaded that all people stay home during the Khmer New Year, which starts on Wednesday.
“Stay where you are,” he said. “If they move back and forth, it can cause infections.”
As for potential penalties for violators, he said it was out of his hands.
“For Takeo province, we have not yet fined anybody yet. … We have not punished them, we’ve treated them, and the decision is up to the top leaders.”