The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths.

“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. Unless we can stop the outbreak, Cambodia’s health system is at high risk of being overwhelmed, which would have disastrous consequences,” said WHO Representative to Cambodia Li Ailan.

Li commended a series of measures taken by the government including non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as an inter-provincial travel ban and nighttime curfew, to break the chain of transmission.

Li suggested that people stay home during the Khmer New Year holiday to minimise risks of infection.

“We appreciate how important Khmer New Year is for the people of Cambodia, and recognise the strong leadership of the Royal Government of Cambodia in making the difficult decision to restrict travel.

"Full and effective implementation of all combined public health measures are critical to help suppress virus transmission, and we will all have to play our part as well,” she said.

Health officials said in the last two weeks, the coronavirus had spread in restaurants, markets and other places where people could gather for drinks, prompting the Phnom Penh Municipal Hall to impose a two-week ban on dine-in at eateries and sales of alcoholic beverage across the capital. The municipality has also placed parts of the city in lockdown.

“If you meet other people without following the preventive measures, the virus can spread, even if you don’t think you are infected. This New Year, stay where you are and celebrate with your immediate household, she said.

“This will help keep everyone safe. These important sacrifices we make now will help avoid a national disaster later. Happy Khmer new year at home! Stay home, stay safe!”

Li warned that even those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 must still act responsibly to prevent the virus spreading further.

“The vaccines protect you from serious illness and hospitalisation, but you may still become infected and spread the virus. Even if you have been vaccinated, you should also stay home - you will be safest there,” she said.

Li also warned that cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which has spread rapidly in more than 120 countries to date, have been detected in Cambodia.

“This outbreak is different from previous outbreaks in Cambodia. The B.1.1.7 variant spreads more easily between people and can cause serious illness. Many countries with strong health systems have been overwhelmed by this variant," she said.