A successful first year . . .
Cambodia, previously hailed for its successful containment of the pandemic, is now in the midst of a surge of COVID-19 infections fuelled by the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant that first emerged in the U.K. Throughout the pandemic’s first year, the Southeast Asian country reported only 484 cases and zero deaths in a population of 16 million. This success was attributed in part to a range of measures, including restrictions on domestic and international travel, school closures, the distribution of hand-washing and hygiene kits, and a strong culture of mask-wearing and public compliance with guidelines.
Quarantine breach sparks outbreak . . .
First detected on February 20, the surge is believed to have arisen when Chinese nationals in quarantine bribed a guard to let them leave. Cambodia has since recorded nearly 6,000 new cases and 45 deaths, with 618 cases diagnosed on Sunday. Observers fear infections could spike in the wake of gatherings celebrating Khmer New Year on April 14, with transmission also detected in restaurants, markets, small businesses, and at least one garment factory, threatening further economic damage to an already-vulnerable economy. The country’s underfunded health-care system is on the brink, and a two-week lockdown has been imposed in the capital Phnom Penh. Cambodia has vaccinated more than 1.5 million people, although vaccinations cannot keep pace with the current transmission rate.
Government response triggers human rights concerns . . .
Critics have voiced fear that some people will avoid getting tested due to privacy concerns, as authorities have previously published personal details of some individuals who tested positive. In addition, laws passed to curb the surge in infections have incited criticism from human rights organizations. Breaking the pandemic rules carries a fine of up to US$5,000, as well as a prison term of up to 20 years. The laws also grant the government the authority to indefinitely ban or restrict any gathering, prompting concerns that such restrictions could be broadly applied to contain more than just the virus. Special U.N. rapporteurs have written to the Cambodian government to express concern.
- Al Jazeera: COVID variant pushes Cambodia to brink of ‘national tragedy’
- The Guardian: Cambodia accused of using Covid to edge towards ‘totalitarian dictatorship’
- Nikkei Asia Review: Cambodia COVID surge threatens to overwhelm health system