Masks to Be Mandatory for Gatherings of Two or More People Around Outbreaks

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People walk near Independence Monument in Phnom Penh on March 26, 2020. (Matt Surrusco/VOD)
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UPDATED The Health Ministry has announced that people must wear masks in public gatherings of two or more people in areas facing an outbreak, as the Phnom Penh governor said authorities would begin working on educating residents about the rules before handing out penalties.

In a government proclamation dated Monday, the ministry said that in “geographical areas where there is an outbreak of Covid-19 in the community,” all kinds of customer service staff and both drivers and passengers of public transportation must now wear masks, as well as any person “who is in a crowded public place or a place with two or more people gathered.”

Those areas would be separately announced by the ministry, it said.

Exceptions were made for gatherings in residences composed only of people who live together, and private travel by such co-inhabitants.

Masks could also be exempted “in the circumstance of an activity that requires the removal of a mask when eating and drinking” as well as taking photographs for official documents and other identification purposes, the document said.

Medical conditions and certain sporting events could also be reasons to not wear a mask.

Public transport operators, restaurants, guesthouses, clinics, supermarkets, shopping malls, banks, offices and all kinds of businesses must bar entry for people not wearing masks, the prakas said.

The requirements apply through the “February 20” Covid-19 cluster, it said.

The same document also laid out rules for social distancing, saying a safe distance of 1.5 meters must be maintained in all public and private places — except between people who live together or when providing health care or other services where it cannot be avoided, such as haircuts.

Brides and grooms are also permitted to breach the social distancing requirements during wedding ceremonies, and athletes during certain sports competitions.

Event organizers must cooperate with authorities to implement health safety measures, the prakas added.

Cambodia has recorded 1,788 total Covid-19 cases amid a recent surge as part of the February 20 community cluster, which has seen the country’s first seven coronavirus patient deaths, five of which have been attributed to the disease. Schools have been shut nationwide and travel restricted in some areas.

The government previously outlined penalties for violating Covid-19 public health requirements, including fines of up to $250 for individuals and $2,500 for businesses.

The recent Covid-19 Law also sets out jail terms for the intentional spread of Covid-19 and other infractions.

Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng said authorities would work on educating people about the new rules first before penalizing them, and they would later announce a date from which people could face punishment.

“We’ll disseminate [information] and educate them to implement the Ministry of Health instructions and announcements, but if they don’t follow, we will take their pictures or make a report to push them to follow [the rules],” Sreng said.

“We will not fine or punish people yet. We need to educate them,” he said. “We will set a date from which we will implement [penalties], so first we disseminate and educate. I believe that after we have disseminated [the information] to them, they will not violate these measures … because these measures are here to protect them.”

After the grace period, people could face fines for failing to comply with the directives, he said.

Sreng added that municipal authorities had already closed down internet cafes as they had been deemed to be problematic.

“It could be very high risk for gatherings especially of young people who come to play online games,” he said.

Updated at 5:47 p.m. with comments from Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng.

Correction: An earlier version of this article did not specify that the new rules apply only to areas designated as facing an outbreak.

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