Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen Friday sealed off the capital Phnom Penh and nearby Takhmao city in Kandal province after residents mostly ignored his recent lockdown order in the two cities.
Hun Sen on Wednesday ordered a lockdown to go into effect Thursday. But in a statement Friday, he said people continued to travel outside their homes in disregard of public health.
The two cities, home to about 2.3 million people, are now isolated from the rest of the country for a 14-day period that started Friday.
“I urged Phnom Penh and Kandal authorities to strictly implement the lockdown. Please declare those areas as lockdown areas. We must implement the law without exception,” Hun Sen said, warning that the lockdown and isolation could even last 28 days or more.
He also ordered authorities to make sure that people are not allowed to travel between areas under lockdown.
“We’re not locking things down to kill people. The city officials are working to rescue the poorest people,” Hun Sen said.
People in both cities said they cannot obey lockdown orders because they do not have adequate supplies of food.
“When people don’t have food, they are not afraid of becoming infected. They must think about their stomach first. How long can he lock the country down?” Buth Buntenth, the founder of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice told RFA’s Khmer Service.
He also urged the government to close the borders with Vietnam.
A worker in a Phnom Penh garment factory told RFA he was running low on food because the authorities provided nothing in preparation for the long quarantine period, where he also has to pay rent and utilities without drawing a salary.
“I don’t know what to do. Authorities have ignored us. I ask the government for help because I’m being quarantined for 14 days.”
At the Din Han factory where the worker is employed, about 400 workers have tested positive.
Morm Chenda, another worker, told RFA she doesn’t have enough food, including no access to milk for her children. She also must stay ahead of mortgage payments.
“I am urging the government to allow us to return to work sooner because I am not allowed to delay my mortgage,” she said.
“I urge [the govt.] to allow us to return to work sooner because I am not allowed to delay my mortgage,” she said.
National Police Spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun told RFA that since the most recent COVID-19 outbreak that started Feb. 20, at least 30 people who criticized the government’s response were arrested on charges of incitement.
But the spokesperson said arresting people for their COVID-19-related criticism was a last resort, employed only after they began incitement over the COVID-19 vaccine, refused to obey COVID-19 restrictions and harmed public health. He said police exhausted all options through issuing fines and providing education, but still arrests are necessary.
“We don’t’ know how long it will take to educate them, but before the law was approved, we had already educated them for some time, said Chhay Kim Khoeun.
Hun Sen welcomed the arrests in a message on his Facebook page. He urged authorities to detain anyone who violates COVID-19 laws.
“We can’t allow people to gather and drink and refuse to obey the law. I am glad about the news that those who abused the law were sent to court,” said Hun Sen.
Much of the criticism of the government response is due to Cambodia’s use of a Chinese-made vaccine, which the head of the Chinese CDC has admitted have a lower efficacy than the two mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.
RFA reported last week that Hun Sen ordered all civil servants to be inoculated with the Chinese vaccine or be fired.
Ros Sotha, the director of the Cambodian Human Rights Defenders Alliance said that people are not aware that expressing an opinion on Chinese vaccines can be considered a crime in Cambodia.
“The people are not legal experts. They don’t know that what they say is a crime,” he said.
Am Sam Ath of local rights group LICADHO said most people don’t know much about COVID-19 laws in Cambodia and lack information on vaccines. He urged the government to more effectively spread the word on new laws as well as information on the vaccines.
“There should be clear information so that the people can avoid confusion. This will prevent people from becoming victims for exercising their freedom of expression,” said Am Sam Ath.
As of Friday, Cambodia has confirmed more than 5,000 cases of the deadly virus, with 38 deaths according to World Health Organization figures.
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