Prime Minister Hun Sen has approved the emergency use of two more Covid-19 vaccines – China’s Sinovac and England’s AstraZeneca – though no timetable has been established for their procurement.

In a press release on February 12 announcing the prime minister’s decision, Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng, who is also chairman of the Inter-ministerial Committee to Combat Covid-19, described the vaccines as having been used safely in China, England and other countries.

“These two vaccines are approved for use according to the protocols of the government’s Covid-19 vaccination strategies from the day of signing,” Bun Heng said.

Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said on February 14 that a schedule had not yet been determined for delivery of the vaccines, but the ministry will announce their procurement when shipping has been arranged.

She noted that distribution of China’s Sinopharm vaccine began on February 10, and in the first three days of the campaign, 1,492 people, including 493 women, had gotten their first dose. Another 455 people had sought to be vaccinated but were turned down by attending physicians for health reasons.

Separately, February 13 marked one year since the MS Westerdam cruise ship was allowed to dock at Preah Sihanouk port after having been denied entry by neighbouring countries. The ship was carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew from 40 countries.

In a Facebook post recalling the incident, Hun Sen wrote: “We remember clearly that at the time, the world was frightened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Several countries had denied entry to the Westerdam cruise ship, knowing that on the ship, there were thousands of people despairing. They had faced the prospects of starvation and Covid-19 infection.”

Hun Sen described Cambodia as having a big heart for welcoming the ship into port. The people on board were rescued and given accommodation and treatment before flights were arranged to return them to their home countries.

The Australian embassy also noted the anniversary, saying the event signalled the beginning of a year unlike any other. Since then, the embassy said it had worked non-stop to provide consular assistance to Australians in the Kingdom.

“We have also been working with our Cambodian partners to refocus our development cooperation programme to assist Cambodia’s post-Covid recovery, including through the provision of over A$65 million [US$50 million] per year to support social-economic development and A$35.7 million for access to safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines in Cambodia.

“We would like to express our thanks to Cambodia for welcoming the ship and for the hospitality extended to the many Australians on board. One year later, we are still in this together,” it said.

The health ministry said on February 14 that of the nation’s 479 recorded Covid-19 cases, only 13 remained hospitalised for treatment.

Meanwhile, Hun Sen ordered authorities on the Cambodia-Thailand border to organise patrols to improve surveillance and enforcement of cross-border movements after returning migrant workers from Thailand were discovered in Takeo province.

A recorded message by the prime minister shed light on the discovery of returning migrants who had bypassed official entry and quarantine procedures. Consequently, he issued orders for officers posted along the borders to step up patrols and discover the locations of places used as unofficial border crossings.

“We must inspect the exits and entrances used by migrant workers to cross the border. We must arrange for patrols to intercept migrants at the border for quarantine. Migrants from Thailand had travelled to Takeo province to quarantine there, but if even one of them had been infected, it would surely have resulted in transmission to the community.

“Takeo provincial authorities must ask the migrants to identify those who led them from Thailand so that we can take action against them. More than 10 migrant workers crossed from Thailand into Takeo so there must have been a ringleader,” he said.