Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that Cambodia is reopening the country fully across all sectors from November 1 on the basis of four factors: Full vaccination of much of the population, the availability of effective Covid-19 treatments and medicines, increased experience in dealing with the coronavirus and increased public understanding of Covid-19 and how to prevent infections.
Hun Sen officially declared the country open as the vaccination campaign for people aged six and older has now been completed, while the jab drive for children aged five has just begun.
“There are four factors that go into determining that we can reopen the country. The first factor is that Cambodia successfully achieved its goals for the vaccination drive, for base shots and booster shots. Our booster shots have reached nearly two million people,” he said.
Cambodia’s vaccination drive reached its targets in just eight month after kicking off in February 2021, which was eight months ahead of the original schedule for completion in mid-2022.
The second factor, he said, was that the government is ready to respond to any future outbreaks of Covid-19 with effective medical treatments including medicines that have now been conclusively determined to be of benefit to Covid-19 patients.
The government has already purchased enough of the US-manufactured Covid-19 medication invented by the pharmaceutical company Merck to treat 50,000 people, in addition to the options that Cambodia already has on hand which include China-produced medicines.
“Don’t just depend on good medicines and throw caution to the wind,” he said. “But now we have a solid treatment plan because we have medicines for Covid-19 that we know work.”
The third factor is Cambodia’s experience gained in combating and preventing the spread of the virus. The authorities now understand the disease better and know how to control it and prevent it from spreading on a large scale, Hun Sen said.
“The fourth factor is that our citizens now understand Covid-19 better and know how to protect themselves. They know how to live with Covid-19 in the new normal. They also know how to treat themselves at home for light cases.
“Of these four factors, it is the fourth – the citizen factor – that is the biggest. If we lead the people but they don’t listen to us, what can we do? If we have vaccines but our people don’t get vaccinated, what can we do?
“So we must thank the people for listening to reasons and protecting themselves by wearing masks and washing their hands frequently – and especially for getting vaccinated – and also testing themselves promptly when they suspect they may be infected.
“If there are no future complications due to other dangerous new variants of Covid-19, then I can assure you all that we are walking away from Covid-19 now in full of confidence,” he said.
The vaccination drive for the adult population of 10 million reached its goal on the night of October 31. The 10 millionth vaccinee was a 89-year-old woman residing in Siem Reap province. Cambodia has also vaccinated 97.89 per cent of the 12-17 age group of over 1.8 million and 101.22 per cent of the 6-11 age group of nearly 1.9 million.
Overall, the country has now vaccinated 85.68 per cent of the total population of around 16 million.
Hun Sen said Cambodia still has around nine million doses of vaccines in stock and ready to be administered to people – possibly as fourth-dose booster. But for the time being, he has told his officials to work with Thai authorities to find a way to bring jabs over the border to administer to Cambodia’s migrant workers in Thailand.
“I told our officials to cooperate with their Thai counterparts to send vaccines from Cambodia to Thailand and ask the Thai authorities to administer our vaccines to our people there, as Thailand does not have enough vaccines for their own citizens,” he said, adding that this would only be possible with approval from Thailand.
Separately, the prime minister questioned aloud the Australian pledge to donate 2.3 million Pfizer vaccine doses to Cambodia and whether those would be arriving any time soon.
“The donation by Australia of 2.3 million Pfizer doses along with the necessary cooling system for storing them was promised a long time ago. [My] apology to [Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison] – who I just met with recently – for even mentioning this,” he said, referring to the recent virtual ASEAN-Australia summit last week.
Reached by The Post for comment on Hun Sen’s speech, the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh said: “Australia is not selling vaccines, but has committed to share 60 million doses with countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific by the end of 2022.
“While commercial negotiations are underway, we are not in a position to confirm the manufacturer of any vaccines to be provided through procurement arrangements with UNICEF, or the timing of deliveries.”
As of November 1, Cambodia has recorded a total of 118,613 Covid-19 cases with 114,902 recoveries and 2,794 fatalities. Hun Sen said 15,605 of the confirmed cases were the highly-transmissible Delta variant.
The prime minster also instructed officials at the Ministry of Health to strengthen Cambodia’s treatment capacity because the percentage of fatal Covid-19 cases in the country was somewhat high compared to other nations.
He noted that the rate of transmission in Cambodia was at less than one per cent of the total population of around 16 million, but the mortality rate was at 2.35 per cent, which is higher than that of the US, UK, India and some other countries.
“This reflects the need to strengthen our provision of treatment. But we should avoid pointing to statistics and saying this or that country has a higher [mortality] number – we don’t really have to care as long as we have low transmission rates,” he said.
The prime minister said the number of cases in Cambodia is not very high relative to the size of the population, standing at less than one per cent. In the Maldives, transmission is at 15 per cent of the population and the US is at over 14 per cent, while the UK is at over 13 per cent and France is at 10 per cent.