‘The Situation Is Alarming’: Health Ministry, WHO Issue Covid-19 Warning

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Delivery drivers park in front of DI Riviera condo on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island after it was locked down for Covid-19 on February 25, 2021. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)

In a joint statement, the Health Ministry and World Health Organization on Friday called on the country’s residents to take Covid-19 health precautions seriously, warning of potential lockdowns and overwhelmed health facilities if the current outbreak is not stopped, resulting in large-scale transmission.

“The situation is alarming. Everyone must take precautions to lower the risk of contracting COVID-19 and cut off the chain of transmission as soon as we can,” ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said in the statement.

“The country is at a critical stage of fighting against COVID-19, but we have a window of opportunity to stop virus spread if we all act together with solidarity,” WHO country representative Li Ailan added. “I know that fighting this pandemic is tiring, but we must come together.”

The statement, posted online by the ministry, said the recent Covid-19 outbreaks were “most likely” caused by the new B.1.1.7 variant, “which transmits more quickly than previously circulating virus.”

The statement followed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s disclosure of the currently circulating virus’s variant on Thursday.

The statement urged people to wear masks, wash hands and maintain social distancing of at least 1.5 meters. It said people should not go to crowded areas or places without ventilation, and “do not touch others, shake hands or hug.”

It added that movement restrictions between provinces or within cities are possible, and “[l]argescale transmission could require largescale restrictions and lockdowns.”

“[I]t would highly likely cause hospitals and health facilities to become overwhelmed,” it said.

The “February 20” Covid-19 cluster has been Cambodia’s worst to date, with more than 1,000 people testing positive. Health authorities as of Friday evening have confirmed two deaths due to Covid-19, while two other Covid-19 patients have also died but their deaths were attributed to other causes.

“While vaccines will help to reduce hospitalisations and severe disease, vaccines alone will not end the pandemic, and they will not end the current outbreak,” the joint statement said. “Only the combined efforts of all people will be able to stop the outbreaks.”

In an email on Friday, Li said “a few cases of B.1.1.7” had been detected in the country through genomic sequencing conducted by the Pasteur Institute.

“Investigation is ongoing to determine the extent to which variants have spread in Cambodia,” she said.

Li added that it was important to understand what vaccines can and cannot do. They can protect against severe disease and death, she said, but, while research is ongoing, it’s not known if vaccines are effective at stopping the spread of Covid-19.

“This means it is possible that people who have been vaccinated may still be able to spread the virus to others.”

Additional reporting by Matt Surrusco

Updated at 8:03 p.m. with Li Ailan’s emailed comments.

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