Cambodia brought in a coronavirus lockdown in Phnom Penh and a satellite district of the capital on April 15 in a bid to contain a spike in coronavirus cases in a country that up until recently had largely managed to contain infections.
Under the lockdown, which Prime Minister Hun Sen announced late on April 14, most people are banned from leaving home except for going to work, to buy food or for medical treatment.
Police manning checkpoints on April 15 in Phnom Penh asked motorists to show work documents and identity cards in order to pass, television footage on local media showed.
In a voice message posted on his official Facebook page, Hun Sen warned Cambodia was on the brink of “death valley” and urged people to work together to avoid calamity.
“The purpose of the lockdown is to combat the spread of COVID-19 and this closure is not a way to make people die or suffer,” he said.
Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh, extended his blessings upon Cambodians and lauded their work fight the spread of the virus, reported RVA News.
The Southeast Asian country still has one of the world’s smallest coronavirus caseloads, but an outbreak that started in late February saw cases spike almost ten-fold to 4,874 within two months and the first deaths recorded with 36 fatalities.
Earlier in the week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the current outbreak is different from previous outbreaks in Cambodia with it being the B.1.1.7 variant which spreads more easily between people. WHO further issued a stark warning about the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
“We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of COVID-19. Despite our best efforts, we are struggling to control the virus. New cases occur every day and we are racing against the virus,” said Dr Li Ailan, WHO representative to Cambodia.
“Unless we can stop the outbreak, Cambodia’s health system is at high risk of being overwhelmed, which would have disastrous consequences,” Li said.
Hours before the April 14 lockdown, Hun Sen’s message was leaked on social media, prompted panic buying of food and other goods in shops by residents in Phnom Penh and the nearby Takhmau area, where a lockdown has also been imposed.
Hun Sen’s government has been criticized for an anti-COVID law passed earlier in the year which introduced disproportionate criminal penalties of up to 20 years in prison and fines. Concerns were also voiced about the government’s “Stop COVID-19” QR Code system, with Human Rights Watch saying it raised serious privacy and other human rights concerns.