Op-ed: Despite Global Coronavirus Pandemic, Cambodia’s Abilities Are Still Strong

AKP Phnom Penh, March 24, 2020 —

Phnom Penh, Mar. 24, 2020, Cambodia quickly realised that it is inevitable that COVID-19 will spear any country, including this Southeast nation and the Royal Government of Cambodia must be ready to handle that scenario.

Although as of Mar. 24, 2020 the country has so far 87 cases of infection confirmed, no-one has yet died. Patients include 34 French, 35 Cambodians, 12 Malaysians, three Britons, one Canadian, one Chinese, and one Belgian. Almost all the cases were imported by way of tourism.

An Ad-Hoc Committee to fight the virus

The increasing global pandemic of COVID-19 prompted Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, to establish the Committee to Combat Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Mar. 18, 2020. It is comprised of 28 members, led by himself, four Deputy Prime Ministers from key ministries, and members from other relevant ministries and institutions.

The mandate of the committee is to set the policy and national strategies to combat COVID-19, implement the national strategy for protection, prevention of infection, manage the impact on politics, the economy, and social effects at both national and international levels, as well as coordinate with other concerned national and sub-national institutions.

Since last week, All government institutions and the legislative body have been instructed to work online or from home unless necessary. The move also confirms Cambodia’s ability as an e-government. Government instructions are distributed through the Telegram app — efficiently and effectively. For hard copies of government legal documents the concerned official can use electronic communications and provide their inputs or feedback. This not only helps them to prevent the spread of the virus but saves the investment of commuting to the office and enables them to work in a friendly environment as well.

The Ministry of Health has arranged 2,000 health workers nationwide to handle patients should the virus be detected in the provinces. Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that the government has allocated as much as US$2 billion in crisis funding.

Cambodia’s ministries and institutions, such as civil and armed forces, work hand in hand and united as one and stand behind the Premier to combat the issue.

Other preventive measures—such as the temporary closures of KTV, large scale gatherings, school closures since last week, among others—are being taken until further notice.

PM Hun Sen himself is proud of learning that the west has adopted Cambodia’s traditional gesture of greeting – raising hands palm together as greeting – introduced by the Prime Minister, instead of shaking hands, as part of the worldwide campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19. So far infections have grown to more than 330,000 people with at least 14,000 dead globally since the outbreak in December 2019 till Mar. 22, 2020, according to reports.

Cambodia’s government also paid attention to social issues for workers as factories slowdown or suspend operations due to the impact of the virus. Some factories have temporarily closed operations due to the lack of raw material from China. However, the problem has a eased a bit thanks to the resumption of the delivery by seven ships from China of raw materials and supplies for factories in Cambodia.

Millions of dollar fund raised

More than US$20 million dollars have been raised by the government following the call by the Premier, with active contributions from the private sector and the public alike to support the fight against the spread of COVID-19. It shows Cambodia’s solidarity and unity are still there under the great leadership of the Premier who himself experienced tremendous hardship and challenges during nearly 30 years of Cambodia’s civil war from 1970 till late 1998.

Early this week, PM Hun Sen sent a voice clip via Telegram internally in which he asked all provincial governors to be ready to handle the increasing number of patients infected with Coronavirus, COVID-19, as it spreads. Especially for any province where the number of such patients is high, such as Preah Sihanouk, and where the local authority has to arrange a proper hotel or school centre to accommodate them instead of hospitals.

The Premier says that, because some provinces lack hospital facilities to handle infected patients, he has instructed all provincial levels to pick a good location of hotels or vocational training centre, isolated from the local community to prevent the spread of the virus.

He also called on the local authority to work hand-in-hand with military and police forces to arrange such facilities in advance.

The premier says that it is a critical time and that the country needs to be well-prepared by picking hotels and transforming hotels or vocational training centres facilities into hospitals since Cambodia does not have newly-built hospital like China.

Local authority must be ready to provide electricity and clean water among other things. For Phnom Penh, there is a military hospital just north of Wat Phnom, Great Duke Hotel to accommodate patients, if any.

“So, military and police forces have to join the Ministry of Health and experts to arrange rooms and beds along with other facilities in all provinces since it is a matter of urgency,” he says.

Well-preparing such facilities will enable the country to prevent the spread of the virus.

Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, Interior Minister, has his voice heard by circulating it on Telegram. He appealed to all provincial governors to work with all levels of local authorities to identify about 1,000 Cambodian immigrant workers who returned this week from Thailand across Battambang province’s borders with Thailand.

The Minister learned that the Cambodians from Thailand did not go through any medical check or body temperature measurement, which has sparked concerns that some of them might spread the virus to family members in their native villages. “They should be placed under quarantine for 14 days to avoid being a possible source of infection,” he said, adding that, those workers are from various provinces throughout Cambodia.

The Minister says, “The local competent authorities must take preventive measures for the well-being of Cambodian community as a whole”.

Diplomatic front amid the COVID-19

Cambodia’s mature diplomacy, amid the spread of Coronavirus, continues to fly high and stands strong at regional and global level. Cambodia calls on friendly countries to join hands to fight the virus as it is a global pandemic. China and US have come up with some assistance.

Cambodia continues to welcome tourists but is also cautions its own nationals to be cautious before deciding to travel to certain countries, such as Europe, Iran and US where they may be hit by the virus. By so doing does not mean Cambodia discriminates them but it is all about the preventive measures.

Cambodia will not take revenge on any country that shuts its borders, but the Kingdom takes gentle diplomatic response to ensure mutual respect and the well-being of the people whose countries with shared borders.

For instance, PM Hun Sen, concerning the closed Vietnam border with Cambodia over fears of spread of Coronavirus/ COVID-19, said that “Cambodia in response bans Vietnamese from crossing the border into Cambodia so that both countries do not have to place quarantine for 14 days for each other’s people.”

“Vietnam shut border with Cambodia…without given notice in advance. We did not do so as a revenge in this respect whatsoever”.

He also learned that, the number of the Vietnamese people traveling across the border into Cambodia, as many as 300 Vietnamese a day, is greater than Cambodian going to Vietnam.

“We ban our Cambodians from travelling to Vietnam, after we gave 48 hours of diplomatic notice in advance to the Vietnamese side, starting from mid-night Mar. 20, 2020 onwards,” the Premier said in a gentle voice as mature leadership.

“I would like to recall that the way that Vietnam treated us is not a reciprocal way diplomatic approach. We, however, take action now and it does not mean taking avenge [revenge] against the Vietnamese side whatsoever. We also put into consideration of the Vietnamese people who will return to Vietnam. If they cannot return to Vietnam they will be considered as illegal stayers in Cambodia,” he said.

However, the Premier made it clear that for bilateral trade of goods across the border traders should remain by each side and unload goods at certain areas on each other’s side so that each side comes to pick up those goods from each other until further notice.

“We keep other services in place as normal, except the flows of our people from both sides to each other’s territory so as to cease any transmission from each other’s people,” said the Premier.

“Both sides must also jointly address any common border issue, such as forest fire,” he said.

“I asked the local authority to deal with Vietnamese side gently and smoothly”.

Hun Sen also recalled that the Vietnamese side exported COVID-19 infected persons to Cambodia, three cases by a cruise from Ho Chi Minh City to Cambodia’s Mekong in Kampong Cham province.

The Premier assured: “Cambodia’s action does not mean both countries lose solidarity. Vietnam did so is to protect its people and so do we.”

By Ek Tha

Spokesman of the Council of Ministers