Hun Sen: Lockdown key to averting catastrophe

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Local officials set up barricades at the border of Phnom Penh and Kandal province this morning. Hean Rangsey

The decision to place Phnom Penh and neighbouring Kandal province's Takmao town in lockdown was made to avert a catastrophe triggered by the ongoing outbreak of Covid-19, which has shown no sign of abating, and not to make people starve or suffer, Prime Minister Hun Sen said.

"We are on the verge of an awful tragedy. As we speak at this hour, we have more than 300 new transmission cases and we have no more place to accommodate them for treatment," he said in a late-night televised national address on April 14, shortly after announcing the two-week lockdown.

Earlier on April 14 alone, the Ministry of Health had already reported the country's 36th Covid-19 fatality and another 177 infections linked to the February 20 community outbreak, bringing the Kingdom's third cluster tally to more than 4,300 cases in less than two months.

"The lockdown forbids all [non-essential] activities, but it will not bring our socio-economic growth to a complete halt. It’s different from other countries that imposed lockdown and absolutely banned people from leaving their homes.

"I appeal to all compatriots: please do not get into a panic like what we witnessed on the evening [of April 14]. Had you learned of the government's directive [beforehand], you would not have been too concerned," he said.

The prime minister was referring to his audio message that was leaked hours before the announcement, prompting people to frantically stock up on food and other necessities.

"You will not lack rice, salt, or food in Phnom Penh," he said, vowing to hold government officials who leaked the audio message accountable.

"And rice sellers, please don’t act like opportunists and increase prices. The Ministry of Commerce will release [reserved] rice stocks into the market to avoid traders taking advantage.

"I would like to call on our compatriots to please be tolerant for now. We'd better suffer in the short run for the greater good.

"I beg our people to please join hands and bring this dangerous [February 20] event to an end. If we don’t stay united, we will be heading towards a real tragedy.