Opinion: You and Your Community Play the Key Part in the COVID-19 Fight

AKP Phnom Penh, April 15, 2020 —

Strong political commitment and the efforts of ASEAN leaders and its external partners, China, Japan and South Korea, ASEAN+3, are one part in fighting the virus that threatens us all, but the participation of the general public, with public awareness, starting with the pro-active involvement of individuals like you and communities like yours, is a must to enable us to cope with the issue.

It is great news to hear that the Foreign Ministers of the ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in a video conference on April 9, 2020, came together in one voice with seven points seeking ways to get rid of the virus. They established the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund, addressing regional supply chains and open markets, restoring confidence of the business community and consumers, among other measures, to mitigate the regional economic slowdown.

Individuals and Communities are Centre Piece

The centre piece of the issue is how to get individuals like you and your communities to be pro-active and better understand the spread of the virus. Mainly, knowing that the virus can get into the body when unclean hands have the virus on them and touch the eyes, nose, mouth or ears, for instance, and may be passed on to others.

The ASEAN Response Fund will invest in more public awareness of COVID-19, along with providing masks and hand gel/sanitizers, among other items, to the public.

Since the hidden virus stays with a person and does not show symptom until 14 days after infection, another challenge for everyone is to avoid it; given the fact that people need time to deal with social activities, such as making their living, among others.

It is quite difficult to contain the virus due to peoples’ movements. That is why some countries have imposed states of emergency to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but no-one can claim it is entirely successful because the virus can spread in other ways, such as on deliveries of contaminated goods or various items. The virus can spread by other types of interaction.

Same Virus, Different Approach

Every government, however, may have to take measures that suit them best for each country’s situation, although we share the same virus.

For example, Cambodia’s garment workers are still allowed to work since there have been no reports of the virus spreading in their communities, as of April 14, 2020, where they worked and lived, versus the situation in other countries.

When the government ordered government officials and workers to keep working, from April 9 to 16, 2020, in their communities without leaving for their native villages to celebrate Khmer New Year. This is part of the nation wide’s campaign to prevent the spread of the virus.

Cambodia, as of this morning, has 122 cases confirmed positive of COVID-19, including 96 recovered, most of which are imported cases. No report of deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in Cambodia so far; while globally almost 2 million cases have been noted, including over 126,000 deaths, and nearly 460,000 recovered.

Cambodian senior health officials, however, are concerned that some workers, stubbornly ignored government orders and visited their home villages. Such travels to and from their villages, mean that no one can tell if workers contract the virus in their travels or get it from persons who have contracted the virus but have yet to show symptoms.

The government also banned gatherings, asking people to keep hands clean, and stay home unless it is necessary to go out; among others measures to ensure the well-being of the people.

Prime Minister Hun Sen asked people to accept the government’s directives for their own health benefit. “I did not do this for my own benefit, but for the people’s well-being as a whole,” he said.

Health Ministry Spokeswoman, Or Vandine, voiced her concern at the joint news conference with the World Health Organization on April 13, 2020: “The current small scale infection of the virus could infect the local community, if the people do not take the government’s instructions and directive orders”.

Cambodia, thus far, has not taken as extreme measures as other countries, where police have used sticks to hit people who resisted government’s measures. At the same time, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that, the use of the State of Emergency law looked slim. But only time will tell, it depends on the developing trend of COVID-19 in Cambodia because the government needs to protect the people’s health, safety, and social development for all. The government is the one, like every government, which bears all burdens, of the people and foreigners hit by COVID-19, by providing the patients with medical treatment and other care.

PM Hun Sen told the ASEAN Special Summit on COVID-19 by video conference on April 14, 2020, that Cambodia has not only provided treatment to Cambodians but also foreign citizens, free of charge: 2 Indonesians, 13 Malaysians, 1 Chinese, 5 British, 40 French, 1 Canadian, 1 Belgian and 2 Americans.

The Holistic Approach To COVID-19

The government’s critics should look at the big picture before criticising the authority for tough actions. The government always considers the many relevant aspects involved before making any decision. The health risk, economic, social development, and other factors are also considered.

Critics will not bring victims of COVID-19 to hospital but the government will. Thus, the civil organisations and NGOs, instead of criticising the government’s approach to COVID-19, should come with constructive ideas and humanitarian assistance supporting the government to address this pressing issue.

Cambodia appreciated China and the U.S. for their assistance to cope with the virus.

ASEAN’s External Partners

The coming Special ASEAN + China, Japan and South Korea Summit on April 14, 2020 on COVID-19 via video conference, will play a very important role in fighting COVID-19 since together they have much more resources in many ways, such as finance, expertise, science, and others, in addition to their political commitments to get rid of the virus.

The whole world takes this issue, of the wide spread of the Coronavirus/ COVID-19 virus, as serious concerns since it partially impacted on trade, investment, tourism, health, and social developments.

I strongly believe that ASEAN’s cooperation with its external partners, such as ASEAN + 3, will bring about the synergies to address this pressing issue. Recalling that the ASEAN Foreign Ministers have already made clear their position as stated in the Cambodia’s MFAIC press release on the April 9, 2020 in which they shared view and exchanged ideas on ways to fight the virus. So, any assistance in all forms from the external partners of ASEAN will be a big plus.

I have said all along that the COVID-19 disease is not anyone’s problem alone, but global. We see China’s role is a must to fight the virus because we believe that the greater assistance from China, South Korea and Japan in this respect, for ASEAN will help to greater mitigate the impacts of regional economic slowdown. Likewise, China’s assistance, along with its experiences and experts, for Cambodia has enabled Cambodia to be more well-prepared to fight a battle it must win.

By Ek Tha

Spokesman of the Council of Ministers

Advisor to Information Ministry

Standing Vice Chairman of the Royal Government Spokesperson Unit