Cambodia’s Covid-19 numbers appear to be on the decline, but authorities stressed the need for continued vigilance as outbreaks have emerged across the region, and say they are keeping particularly close watch on factories and dense urban areas.
The Health Ministry’s updates on daily Covid-19 case numbers have shown an easing of new cases in recent days and a rise in recoveries. On Tuesday, it reported 345 new cases and 1,337 recoveries; a week ago, it reported 480 and 350, respectively, with weekly averages showing the same trend.
However, Health Ministry technical director-general Hok Kim Cheng said on Tuesday that it was still only a small decrease.
“With this disease, we can’t get rid of it very soon. We are only able to control and reduce the transmission,” Kim Cheng said. “And at the same time, we increase the vaccination campaign, and prepare to strictly implement health measures.”
Kim Cheng also pointed out the continued rise in Covid-19 cases in neighboring countries.
Thailand, in particular, saw almost 10,000 new cases in a single day on Monday.
The decrease being seen in Cambodia was in part due to lockdown measures in Phnom Penh and Kandal province’s Takhmao city, especially the red-, orange- and yellow-zone classifications that allowed the Health Ministry to hone in on the areas needing the most urgent attention, Kim Cheng said.
Nevertheless, the ministry was still concerned about dense urban areas, particularly those with factories, he said, emphasizing the continued importance of health measures and precautions.
For densely populated areas, vaccinations were vital, he said, adding that the ministry’s nationwide campaign had made smooth progress. It had hit 20 percent of the goal of vaccinating 10 million people in the country, he said.
“It is an important strategy to vaccinate at a fast speed,” Kim Cheng said. “We want to have immunity in the community, in downtown areas with large numbers of people, so I think this is the right strategy.”
City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey said the recent decrease in Covid-19 cases did not indicate a 100-percent success, but was encouraging.
“It’s a positive sign that we chose and decided to walk on the right track. We have prepared the plan and strategy correctly,” he said. “We hope that it will be even better than this.”
Local markets would remain closed for now, but yellow zones would be extended and red zones diminished, Measpheakdey said. Larger malls could also be opened as they were at lower risk, he said, and also noted his satisfaction with the progress in vaccinations.
The World Health Organization’s Cambodia representative, Li Ailan, said the WHO was pleased by the decrease in weekly reported Covid-19 cases.
“However, we know that the virus is still circulating in Cambodia, especially in Phnom Penh, and we must be highly vigilant,” she said. “While the overall reported cases have been decreasing, we also see new cases reported from some provinces with the link with Phnom Penh.”
The highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant circulating in Cambodia and the lack of symptoms for many people made it challenging to stop transmissions, she said.
There was also “sub-optimal implementation of and compliance with” Covid-19 measures, Ailan added.
“We understand that people have been tired of some strict measures, but we have no other choices except for continuing [to] strictly follow the effective public health measures,” she said. “We also learned from some other countries that we need to be careful about vaccines optimism. Safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are an additional powerful tool to help end the pandemic, but the vaccines alone are not enough and we need to implement a combination of the effective public health measures.”
The vaccination effort had made “remarkable progress,” and the WHO was pleased that health care workers and old groups were prioritized in the initial phase, she said.
“Moving forward, there are still many uncertainties. Pandemic is far from over. There is the high possibility of surge or resurge if we relax the COVID-19 measures too fast and too soon, if the business sector and our workplaces can not have good risk mitigation measures in place before reopening, and if people show complacency, start gathering and create more [crowds],” Ailan said. “I am concerned about such potential surge and we need to continue to work together and tirelessly to fight the virus.”
Meanwhile, Takeo province has seen a relative rise in Covid-19 cases, recording 70 cases on Saturday, 51 on Sunday and 48 on Monday. The provincial administration said most of them were factory workers.
Takeo administrative chief Meas Uy said the cases showed a significant trend, but most were found among workers who had already been placed in quarantine in relation to an outbreak at a factory in Prey Kabbas district.
“This large number is from those who are in quarantine and it is related to the opening of traffic from Phnom Penh and Kandal province, as those people returned to their homeland,” Uy said.
Takeo had 1,524 people in quarantine, as well as a total of 412 positive cases, 101 recoveries and four deaths so far.
Uy said the situation was under control, but he was still concerned about the recent rise, and asked that people be careful especially about traveling.
In Phnom Penh, the Health Ministry announced a public vaccination campaign in two districts, Boeng Keng Kang and Sen Sok.
Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine told reporters at Boeng Keng Kang High School on Tuesday that Cambodia was due to receive a further 1 million vaccine doses this month, and was procuring more to arrive in June.
“So we expect that in the upcoming June, we will vaccinate in all districts in Phnom Penh,” she said.
The Interior Ministry’s prisons department spokesperson, Nuth Savna, said 10,000 prisoners, or 29 percent of the prison population, had been vaccinated.
Three prisons in Phnom Penh — Prey Sar’s Correctional Centers I and II, and PJ Prison — as well as the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Prison were targeted, he said.
Asked about any health issues in the prisons, Savna said he was not a health expert.
But 146 female prisoners had been moved from Preah Sihanouk to Kampot after cases were found in Preah Sihanouk.
“There is no information that people have any serious symptoms yet,” Savna said. “We are continuing to keep an eye on this issue, and on the 23th we will take samples for the second time.”
Mey Doeun, director of the Preah Sihanouk prison, and Em Bo, director of the Kampot prison, declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Michael Dickison and Mech Dara