In Phnom Penh, Tightened Restrictions Reflect Vigilance Against Delta

4 min read
The new Covid-19 restrictions in Phnom Penh are more lenient than the harsher lockdown measures imposed in April and May. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)

Commune authorities said on Thursday they would ban dining in at restaurants but allow alcohol sales for drinking at home, as a Phnom Penh councilor explained the need for heightened vigilance against the looming Covid-19 Delta variant despite a lull in local infections.

City Hall earlier in the day announced a 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. curfew and renewed restrictions around gathering, dining and alcohol sales, in line with a nationwide order made late Wednesday by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The government also announced that eight provinces near the Thai border would adopt a three-color lockdown as a surge of Delta cases in the neighboring country is brought home by migrant workers. The measures will be in place for two weeks starting at midnight.

Toul Kork district’s Toek La’ak III commune chief Chea Kheang said around 6 p.m. that his officials were headed out to businesses in the area to instruct them that dine-in would be prohibited from tomorrow.

“We will place our forces on patrol to check restaurants, eateries in case they do not follow the government and Health Ministry’s instructions,” Kheang said. He said he was still not clear on exactly how restrictive his commune would be about drinking alcohol, but “they have to be socially distanced and cannot have large gatherings.”

City Hall has placed a 10-person limit on private gatherings.

Sorn Sin, Prek Pnov district’s Kok Roka commune chief, said people can buy alcohol as long as they drink at home.

“We have disseminated that we do not allow them to install tables for gathering and asked them to package it. They have followed our instructions,” Sin said.

In general, there was greater understanding among residents about necessary health measures compared to the city’s lockdown earlier this year, he added. “They wear masks and socially distance, and unless they have necessary tasks, they don’t go out. Now there are only two or three cases per day,” he said of new Covid-19 infections.

Kong Vong, chief of Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao I commune — once a red zone and a hotspot for the disease — echoed that cases were down and people had been compliant. Even those getting sick from Covid-19 now typically recovered in four or five days as if it were only a mild illness, he said.

“It has significantly decreased,” Vong said. “Some days there are four or five, but some days there are no infections.”

Phnom Penh municipal councilor Pa Socheatvong said the city was only seeing 50-100 Covid-19 cases a day — far below the hundreds at its peak a couple of months ago — but the whole country needed to be alert against the Delta variant.

“Our city is stable since we do rapid tests and PCR [testing] and take precautions in time,” Socheatvong said. However, “the indications are that the Delta virus is dangerous and transmits faster … so the government placed the lockdown measures last night for 14 days for the eight provinces to stop entry and exit, because we are very concerned about this Delta.”

“We will definitely have difficulty in confronting it and giving treatment … so the government’s measures are urgent,” he said.

The Delta variant has swamped health systems around the world, quickly becoming the predominant strain over previous variants once it begins to spread.

For Phnom Penh, additional restrictions have been put in place, but the key difference from the lockdown earlier this year is that people are free to move around, he said. “The previous lockdown that was serious did not allow traffic, and this is the difference.”

Socheatvong added that some people believe that since they are vaccinated, there is no longer any danger.

They might be relatively better protected against Covid-19’s respiratory problems, but they can still infect others — especially vulnerable people with chronic illnesses who have not been able to receive a vaccine, he said.

“I could bring the virus into the house. What about our children who have not been vaccinated, and our parents with chronic diseases who have not been vaccinated,” Socheatvong said. “If they are infected, it will be serious, and this is the issue.”

“We have to be cautious and we cannot neglect this,” he said. “The danger is this Delta.”

On Facebook, various Covid-19 committees and representatives posted about meetings on Thursday to disseminate instructions related to the new measures around the country. Kouch Chamroeun, governor of Preah Sihanouk, ordered his district governors to take urgent action against eating and drinking in public spaces. “From now on, if found, such places will be fined and the location will be closed without exception.”

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