Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that he is considering lifting mask-wearing mandates on a provincial trial basis depending on Covid-19 case numbers from the Khmer New Year in mid-April, though he urged the public to continue wearing masks during festivities to mitigate spread of the virus.

Speaking at the inauguration of 38 new roads in Siem Reap province on April 4, Hun Sen said this decision was being considered after his observation of countries that have already loosened such restrictions, coupled with the improvement in the Covid-19 situation in Cambodia.

“I am thinking that… we will strategically begin to permit people not to wear masks in one or two province as a trial. We may allow the residents of one province to travel without masks, but they will have to wear masks when they cross to another province,” he said.

“But for now, don’t put down your masks yet. I will let you know when the time comes, as I am still following this matter,” he said, as he called on provincial officials in charge of Covid-19 case tallies to update the number of new daily transmissions in each province.

In the meantime, as Khmer New Year approaches, Hun Sen appealed to people to continue wearing their masks and following health measures including the “three dos and three don’ts” government-instituted measures, citing the need to do so especially in high density areas such as Siem Reap, a tourist destination where he said outbreaks of the virus must be prevented.

He said that the lifting of the mask mandate will depend on the number of Covid-19 cases as a result of mixing during the Khmer New Year, and called on Cambodians to continue to practice prevention measures and get their booster shots.

Hun Sen also instructed the national Covid-19 vaccination committee to look into the possibility of providing the jab to people at resorts and leisure areas during the Khmer New Year celebrations to encourage holidaymakers who have yet to be vaccinated to get it.

“I can declare now that that Cambodians can enjoy Khmer New year by dancing [and mixing around],” he said. “But I want to know whether the virus is still spreading when we open for travel from one region to another.”

Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine issued a directive on April 1 for the upcoming Khmer New Year, calling on the public to continue to be vigilant and adhere to disease preventive measures.

“I would like to remind everyone that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over, and is continuing to spread around the world and in each country,” she said. “There is also the possibility of the emergence of a new variant.”

As of April 4, Cambodia had recorded a total of 135,782 Covid-19 cases, with 132,201 recoveries and 3,054 fatalities.

Vandine announced that Cambodia is working toward implementing a Primary Health Care (PHC) booster to deal specifically with infectious and communicable diseases.

PHC is an approach which encompasses policy across different sectors and action to mitigate, preempt and address health issues instead of dealing with its aftereffects.

Vandine called PHC an “important engine” for transforming healthcare and making it accessible to all. “It should be seen as an important journey in Cambodia to achieve PHC,” she said. “It embraces people-centeredness in healthcare, especially through helping the individual, family and community to be responsible for their health rather than waiting until it is too late.”

She added that the goal for all healthcare is for people to live healthier and longer, but that to arrive at this outcome requires more investment in the sector.

Vandine noted that individual, family, and community practices in prevention measures were crucial in the Kingdom’s successful Covid-19 response, and that such lessons can be applied to combat any disease.

She said that shifting the focus from curative care and putting more emphasis on prevention of infectious and non-communicable diseases will address key public health concerns, especially for the next pandemic, but also for the increasing number of Cambodians affected by diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and heart disease.

“Our PHC booster will be a long journey of public health interventions to improve the health and well-being of the Cambodian population. I would like to appeal to the public, leaders and policy implementers at national and sub-national levels, and especially our community, to engage with this PHC booster for the benefit of their own health,” she said.