Two More COVID-19 Deaths in Cambodia Bring Total to Three Amid Latest Virus Outbreak

At least two more people died from COVID-19 in Cambodia on Friday, according to the Ministry of Health, bringing to three the total number of deaths from the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic and prompting the ministry to declare a “critical point” in its fight to contain new outbreaks.

A statement from the ministry said that one of the two patients who died Friday is Noun Sophany, the 65-year-old wife of popular Cambodian crooner Hour Lavy. She was known to have been suffering from chronic diseases, including diabetes and hypertension.

The second patient was identified as a 46-year-old Cambodian male from the capital Phnom Penh’s Toul Kork district. Doctors told the Khmer Times that he did not have any other serious health problems and that the main cause of his death with COVID-19.

Cambodia marked its first official death from COVID-19 on March 11, a year to the day that the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled the coronavirus a global pandemic.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Friday that some 300,000 people have already been inoculated with vaccine from China-based Sinopharm and U.K.-based Astra Zeneca. The latter’s vaccine, he said, is being prioritized for people 60 years of age and older, although “some hospitals in Phnom Penh vaccinated people who are younger than 60, which goes against distribution policy.”

Hun Sen said he had bought 1.5 million additional Sinopharm doses which are expected to arrive in Cambodia by late March, and another batch of 400,000 doses expected in April. He made the comments while touring a new 500-bed hospital on the outskirts of Phnom Penh that is designated solely for COVID-19 patients.

However, members of the public have been critical of Hun Sen’s plans to purchase vaccines from Sinopharm, saying they only trust vaccines that have been recognized by the WHO. They have also called for a distribution plan free from bias. 

The update on COVID-19 deaths and efforts to battle the coronavirus came as Cambodia recorded 30 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total number of cases across the country since the beginning of the pandemic to 1,578, while the Ministry of Health warned that a Feb. 20 community event that “breached quarantine” is expected to raise the total number to more than 1,600 by Saturday.

Earlier this week, Cambodia reported a daily record of 105 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country’s total number of infections to 1,430—nearly triple that of a month ago when the latest outbreak was first detected.

‘Critical point in the fight’

On Friday, the Ministry of Health issued a joint statement with the WHO, warning that Cambodia is “at a critical point in the fight against COVID-19.”

“The current COVID-19 situation in Cambodia remains serious. What we do right now will determine the course of this outbreak,” Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said.

“We must accelerate our efforts to stop the spread of [the coronavirus] in the coming days and weeks. Lives depend on it.”

Li Ailan, WHO representative to Cambodia, warned that COVID-19 can “affect anyone at any time.”

“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,” Li said.

The statement urged Cambodian to “follow the 3 do’s and the 3 don’ts” of wearing masks properly, washing hands frequently, and maintaining a distance of at least six feet from others, while abstaining from entering places with poor ventilation, joining crowds, and touching others.

It warned that large scale transmission could require largescale restrictions and lockdowns and would likely cause hospitals and health facilities to become overwhelmed, making it difficult for people with COVID-19 and other health conditions to receive care.

Warning against discrimination

Earlier this week, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner in Cambodia (OHCHR Cambodia) warned that discrimination against people who have contracted COVID-19 can often prove more dangerous than the disease itself.

In a post to Facebook, the OHCHR said that “hate speech spreads faster than [the coronavirus] and makes those targeted more vulnerable to violence, exclusion, isolation and stigmatization” and deters them from accessing medical services, increasing the risks for everyone.”

The OHCHR’s message came after several social media users took to Facebook to attack people, including film stars, for allegedly spreading the coronavirus amid the recent outbreak.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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