The Ministry of Health called on the public to be vigilant and prepared for the arrival of the Omicron variant in Cambodia so that they will not have any regrets when it gets here.
To prepare for this eventuality, the Kingdom may begin offering a second booster shot – meaning a fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine – at some point in 2022.
The call came during a press conference held jointly by health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine and World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Cambodia Li Ailan on December 9 to raise public awareness about Omicron.
In a joint statement, Vandine and Li said it was an enormous achievement for Cambodia to successfully vaccinate nearly 90 per cent of the population, but the public cannot be complacent due to the probable arrival of Omicron.
“While there is currently no evidence that Omicron is here in Cambodia, we learned from our experience with Delta’s circulation that we must anticipate that the variant will enter the country silently and begin to spread before we realise it and it’s just a matter of time,” the statement said.
Health minister Mam Bun Heng said risk-based measures have been implemented at the international border checkpoints, though it is unlikely that the variant will be kept out by those measures.
“Everyone must be vigilant and be prepared to take necessary measures to prevent Covid-19 transmission regardless of the variant, while following the new normal by strictly implementing the three dos and three don’ts guidelines and by being fully vaccinated with boosters,” he was quoted as saying in the joint statement.
Li said there is no solid information so far as to whether infection by Omicron causes more severe disease as compared to other variants nor is it known for certain what impact its mutations have on vaccines effectiveness.
However, she noted, most experts are now saying Omicron is highly transmissible and infectious to a greater degree than even the Delta variant.
“We do know that our current individual and public health measures have worked against all previous variants, including Delta, and they will work against Omicron too,” she said, adding that during this period of uncertainty, hospitals and clinics must be ready to respond to possible surges.
“Omicron provides us with an opportunity to further strengthen our public health and healthcare systems: preparing for Covid-19 surges will help us to avoid the red line – when healthcare systems are overwhelmed – and to protect the vulnerable. These measures will help us to continue a safe and sustainable reopening,” she said.
Both Li and Vandine noted that people who have already had Covid-19 can most likely be re-infected more easily by Omicron and therefore it is important that everyone remains vigilant and continues following personal and community preventive measures to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Prime Minister Hun Sen also called on the public to remain calm and not succumb to panic because Omicron has not actually killed anyone so far but they should still remain vigilant.
Speaking at the construction site of the new Phnom Penh international airport – now officially named Techo Krong Takhmao International Airport – in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district on December 9, Hun Sen also recommended that Phnom Penh governor Kuong Sreng speed up construction of the new Covid-19 hospital.
“Omicron has not killed anyone to date. The WHO and some countries are panicking way too much. For our country, I remain more concerned about Delta cases,” he said.
Vandine said Cambodia should probably begin vaccinations with fourth doses next year.
“In my view, the fourth dose will come in 2022 for those who have been vaccinated with their third shot in the past six months or one year. But there is still no certainty on this as we are waiting for more studies to provide clarity,” she said at the press conference.
Vandine also said that as long as the pandemic continues and the virus remains in circulation, it will probably continue to make good policy sense to provide periodic booster shots as time goes by, meaning fifth doses and beyond at suitable intervals, depending on the actual circumstances.