The Ministry of Health and Covid-19 commissions across the country have urged the public to increase vigilance amid a surge in Omicron cases, as some in the capital began stocking up on antiviral medication to prepare for the possibility of catching the virus.

The dramatic rise in cases in recent days has caused Phnom Penh residents to flock to the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications to purchase the Covid-19 antiviral medication Molnupiravir, sold under the brand name Molnatris, which has been authorised for home-based treatment of mild to moderate cases.

On February 21, a long line of people could be seen queueing at the ministry, located near Wat Phnom in Daun Penh district, to buy the medication. Some said they were buying it to be ready for if – or when – they contract the virus, while others said they were purchasing it for family members who have already tested positive and fallen ill.

A woman who identified herself as Dany said she bought molnupiravir at the ministry to send to her siblings, who had contracted the virus.

“I come to buy this medicine directly at the ministry to make sure that it is authentic. I don’t buy it at the pharmacy because I’m afraid it won’t be of the same quality as the one for sale at the ministry,” she said.

Another medicine buyer who asked not to be named said he had waited in line from 9am to 11am just to be able to buy two packages of the medicine.

“My family has yet to contract the virus, but I am buying it in advance to have it ready in case we catch the disease,” he said.

The ministry announced last month that the price of the medication would be set at $55 per treatment course consisting of 40 tablets.

Health minister Mam Bun Heng instructed in an additional directive issued on February 20 that asymptomatic Covid-19 patients or those with mild symptoms

should treat themselves at home using medicine that responds directly to the symptoms, or which are authorised for use to treat Covid-19, such as molnupiravir.

The directive stated that four pills of 200mg molnupiravir capsules should be taken every 12 hours for five consecutive days. Patients should start the medication as soon as possible after testing positive for the virus.

It also warned that the medicine is not recommended for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and people under the age of 18.

Bun Heng urged individuals to take Rapid Antigen Tests if they suspect they have the disease or display Covid-19 symptoms. If the result is negative, another test should be taken 72 hours later, or when symptoms develop.

“During the period with unclear result, you have to care for your health and stay away from others, along with sanitising hands, wearing masks, and maintaining social distancing,” he said.

Those who test positive for Covid-19 are to report their status to local authorities and health officials in order to receive instruction on treatment and timely intervention should their condition worsen, he said.

“Although most scientific research has said the Omicron variant is less serious, we must not overlook its potential to ‘attack’ because it may still be severe for some and even lead to death,” Bun Heng said, adding that patients who experience chest congestion and difficulty breathing should seek attention at a hospital.

The minister urged individuals to take rapid tests before they attend any public event. He also called on event organisers to ensure that they reduce the number of participants and prevent those with symptoms from attending.

Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said nearly 6,000 Omicron cases have been recorded in the Kingdom and that the number has been increasing daily. She warned the public not to let their guard down despite gradually adjusting to life with the presence of the virus, and stressed the need to always adhere to health guidelines and act sensibly.

“People [seem to] only remember the phrase ‘living with Covid-19’, but they forget the term ‘new normal’. This has caused the implementation of the ‘three dos and three don’ts’ prevention measures to be patchy, and is the reason we see high increase in the number of cases,” she said on February 19, adding that she still observed high attendance at weddings and other events.

Dy Vichea, deputy National Police chief and head of the sub-commission for rapid response and Covid-19 patient tracking, called on the public to increase their vigilance against the virus.

“Please join hands to practise the three dos and three don’ts correctly, especially by getting booster shots to strengthen our immune system and break the Covid-19 chain in the community. This is to save our loved ones,” he said.

The health ministry reported five deaths and more than 1,000 Omicron community cases in the last two days.