Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that despite Cambodia having run out of Covid-19 vaccines, he would not allow people to be vaccinated with expired vaccines.

He made the remarks on March 7 at the inauguration of the Cambodia-China Friendship Hospital in Tbong Khmum province. He said vaccinations in Cambodia were done according to the blossoming strategy that the government had successfully implemented earlier amid the pandemic.

The blossoming strategy started out by vaccinating the residents of Phnom Penh and neighbouring Kandal province before expanding to the rest of the country. It was overwhelmingly successful and Cambodia ended up having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, surpassing even most of the developed countries, he said.

The premier added that certain countries, including Cambodia, had vaccinated enough people to achieve “herd immunity”, only to discover that the coronavirus had mutated and could infect even the fully vaccinated.

He renewed his calls for everyone to remain vigilant and protect their health against the virus as the vaccines have not been 100 per cent effective at stopping it as hoped – though they did make serious illness far less likely.

Hun Sen said he hopes that more Covid-19 vaccines would be provided by China and certain development partners to Cambodia in the near future.

“I would like to make it clear that although we are out of vaccines in Cambodia, I won’t allow people to be vaccinated with expired vaccines. That means we have to throw away some of the vaccines that we had here in Cambodia because they expired at the end of March, so we cannot use them,” he said.

Hun Sen suggested that the Ministry of Health reconsider taking delivery of any Covid-19 vaccines that are too near their expiration date.

“Cambodia is now being invaded by Omicron, which spreads fast but kills far less people. But scientific evaluation has been done regarding the consequences that could come about in the future from having been infected with Omicron,” he said, alluding to the “long covid” phenomenon that has caused serious long-term health problems for some people post-infection and recovery, but in a relatively small number of cases globally.

He noted that three provincial governors have contracted the virus to date: Kampong Cham governor Un Chanda, Kampong Speu governor Vei Samnang and Kampot governor Mao Thonin. All three appear to have made a full recovery.

Chinese ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian said at the event that the Covid-19 pandemic is still far from over and that China’s assistance to Cambodia in the fight against Covid-19 would not stop.

“In the next few days, China will send a team of doctors to Cambodia to share their experiences with use of Chinese herbal medicines to fight Covid-19,” he said.

Wentian expressed strong support for Cambodia’s decision to vaccinate children against Covid-19, saying that China would provide more vaccines assistance to Cambodia soon.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on March 2 that it was too early to declare victory over Covid-19. Many countries, he said, are still facing high rates of hospitalisation and death and low rates of vaccination coverage, so he urged all people to exercise caution and all governments to stay committed to fighting the disease.

“Deaths from Covid-19 are now declining globally and in most regions. And it’s pleasing to see some countries being able to relax restrictions without their health systems being overwhelmed,” he said.

He continued that the only sustainable way out of the pandemic was to reach higher vaccination coverage globally, and called on all governments to continue their surveillance and track new mutations and known variants of the virus through testing while making sure patients are receiving appropriate medical treatment for their illness.