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Senate set to decide on Covid law

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Prime Minister Hun Sen said while the government would not enforce the State of Emergency Law as yet, it needed a disease control law to contain the pandemic and urged the Senate to speedily pass it. SPM

Senate set to decide on Covid law

The Senate will hold an extraordinary session on March 11 to approve the draft law on the control of Covid-19 and other contagious diseases, with the bill expected to be promulgated the same day.

Senate spokesman Mam Bun Neang confirmed to The Post on March 9 that the draft law is now in the hands of the commission on health, social affairs, youth rehabilitation, labour, vocational training, and women’s affairs for a review.

The commission will then refer the draft law to the Permanent Committee on March 10, with a full Senate session expected the next day. Once approved, the bill will be returned to the National Assembly to proceed with a signature from the King or acting head of state.

The draft law was proposed by the government on February 28 and passed by the National Assembly on March 5 following the February 20 community outbreak of Covid-19, which had seen confirmed cases rise to 549 in just over two weeks as of March 9.

In an urgent public address late on March 8, Prime Minister Hun Sen said while the government would not enforce the State of Emergency Law as yet, it needed a disease control law to contain the pandemic and urged the Senate to speedily pass it.

“I request that the Senate president, acting as head of state, find a way to swiftly enact the draft law that the National Assembly has recently passed. Please hold an online session or a meeting with a limited number of members, because this law is urgent.

“We cannot enforce the state of emergency [law] in this situation yet, but we are in need of this law that defines legal measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” Hun Sen said.

Bun Neang said: “The law will be passed no later than five days because Article 113 of the Constitution states that the Senate can pass a draft law deemed urgent by the National Assembly within five days of its receipt.

“When the Senate approves it, the draft will be returned to the National Assembly who will seek ratification from the King or head of state.”

The draft law consists of six chapters and 18 articles, with jurisdiction to enforce measures to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 and other serious, dangerous, and contagious diseases in Cambodia. But many of its details will likely be prescribed in sub-decrees that will come later.

The draft law lays out conditions regarding bans on travelling, gatherings and trading activities as well as lockdown of places determined to be the source of infections and ban of products linked to the spread of a contagious disease.

Individuals and institutions that violate the health measures defined by this law will face administrative and criminal responsibility ranging from monetary fines to having their business licences revoked or even imprisonment.

The most serious possible prison term under this law is a sentence of 10 to 20 years for an individual who intentionally spreads Covid-19 or other dangerous diseases while acting under orders from an organised group.

Criminal responsibility for the spread of disease under the law can be eliminated or reduced if a violator or their family informs and cooperates with health officials or relevant authorities in efforts to stop further spread of the disease.

Article 16 states that all health measures put in place before this law are still valid until another legal standard is announced.

Meanwhile, Hun Sen has reiterated calls for all families to keep their children indoors. He also advised that the elderly and adults refrain from going out unless absolutely necessary and to wear a mask while doing so.

The prime minister warned that the Covid-19 situation is critical now with infections rapidly spreading through Phnom Penh and the provinces of Preah Sihanouk and Prey Veng as well as some parts of Kandal province.

“We don’t actually know where exactly the outbreak of the disease originated,” he said.

Meanwhile, the prime minister ordered the temporary suspension of all state institutions and instructed them to reduce the number of staff by at least 90 per cent. He also urged private businesses to work from home as the country grapples with the large-scale community outbreak.

“[State institutions] must have only a small number of people on standby. The suspension will be for at least seven days.

Hun Sen also urged an end to all non-essential meetings and gatherings as health authorities are working to determine the origin of the outbreak.

“This is a tremendous challenge that warrants necessary measures to protect the health of individuals, families and society as a whole. I call for an end to gatherings to minimise the risks,” he said.

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