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Mask mandate lifted in open spaces as Covid cases plunge

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A motorcycle rider in a blue shirt (right) chose not to mask up on Tuesday, the day when wearing the protective coverings in open spaces was made optional, as he travels along Russian Federation Boulevard (Street 110) in the capital. Heng Chivoan

Mask mandate lifted in open spaces as Covid cases plunge

As Covid-19 cases reached a record low on April 25, with just two cases reported, Cambodia officially lifted the mask mandate for public outdoor spaces.

In an audio address to the nation on April 26, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that following a meeting of the Inter-ministerial Committee to Combat Covid-19 the previous day, the mask mandate has been removed, effective immediately.

Mask wearing is now optional in public outdoor spaces across the country, but remains mandatory in indoor areas where there is air conditioning, such as meeting rooms and cinemas.

“At public places, parks, and resorts which do not have doors, you can decide… whether or not to wear a mask. For other places – such as where it is crowded and where there are suspected cases of Covid-19 – the government still recommends that people wear masks, although it is not mandatory,” the premier said.

Places that are required to follow standard operating procedures set out by ministries – such as restaurants or other enclosed spaces – must still follow those rules.

“I hope that our people can now release themselves from hardship and expenses. Now we will take vaccines to replace mask wearing. To ensure our continued resilience in light of the mask mandate withdrawal and to avoid future transmission, I appeal to everyone to get their third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, which is the minimum number of doses required in Cambodia [to be considered fully vaccinated],” Hun Sen said.

The booster shot is to be sought on a voluntary basis, and no punishment or fine will be applied for failure to do so, he noted. However, he said the public should regard taking the shot as a “moral duty” undertaken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

It has been estimated that around six million people have yet to receive their booster shots.

Hun Sen said that the health sector must “strictly follow” the progression of the disease and be ready to respond quickly to future developments following the mask mandate being scrapped.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen said the government is considering provision of a fifth dose to frontline workers and officials. Hong Menea

He also revealed that the government is considering provision of a fifth dose to frontline workers and officials to increase their protection against the virus.

The premier also urged the public to take rapid tests when they are exposed to the virus or suspect themselves to be infected, and to seek treatment when they have tested positive.

Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine, who is also the head of the national Covid-19 vaccination Committee, called on provincial and municipal health departments nationwide to “stand ready to respond in a timely manner” to the possible recurrence of a dangerous strain of the virus.

Vandine said last week during a visit to a Covid-19 vaccination site in Mondulkiri province that she had observed many people there still wearing masks, despite the province being one of four where they were made optional starting from the second week of April.

Vandine urged authorities to continue encouraging the public to get the Covid-19 vaccine, saying that high vaccination rates would lead to lower hospitalisation rates as those who test positive would not fall severely ill and could be treated at home.

She added that demand for both the medication to treat Covid-19 and rapid test kits has been decreasing among the population after the rate of Covid-19 infection tapered off.

But she urged the public not to let their guard down, warning that another increase of infection rates would lead to stocks of medication and test kits plummeting again.

Phnom Penh resident Kong Vuthy told The Post he was of the view that removing the mask mandate “makes sense”, but said the public must not be complacent and forget to protect themselves.

“I support the government measures to lift the mask-wearing mandate, but I will continue to wear it because I am still concerned about this virus, and I work outside. I don’t want to spread the virus to my family at home,” he said.

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