Kingdom, China reach deal on domestic Covid jab production

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A plane lands at Phnom Penh International Airport in November. Prime Minister Hun Sen also said the government would consider lifting the travel ban that was put in place for 10 African countries due to concerns about the Omicron variant. Hong Menea

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia and China have reached an agreement that will allow the Kingdom to produce Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines domestically in the near future.

Speaking during an inauguration ceremony in Preah Sihanouk province for 37 new roads and three sewage treatment facilities on December 2, he also said the government would consider lifting the travel ban that was put in place for 10 African countries due to concerns about the Omicron variant which may have originated in that region.

On Covid-19 vaccine production, he said the Chinese biopharmaceutical company, Sinovac Biotech has already come to an agreement with a local partner to develop the enterprise jointly.

“This will make it easy to buy vaccines that can rapidly be made available for use here and we can also export them abroad,” he said, adding that Thailand and Indonesia were engaged in similar projects.

Hun Sen also expressed a desire to withdraw the travel ban for 10 African countries – Botswana, Eswatina (Swaziland), Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Angola and Zambia – just two days after the initial decision was issued with his approval. The ban went into effect on December 1.

“I suggest that [Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng] consider lifting this ban [because] it unfairly isolates these African countries. I recommend increased testing as an alternative measure,” he said.

Cambodia banned entry of all travellers from the 10 African countries and anyone who has been there in the past three weeks in a bid to prevent the spread of Omicron after a number of other nations had already done so, including the US, UK, EU and Japan.

“I agree with Antonio Guterres that keeping Africa isolated is not suitable at all. For us, we don’t have any direct flights with Africa anyways so it seems that there is really no need for any travel ban to begin with,” he said, referring to the UN secretary-general.

He added that an increased use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on arriving travellers would suffice.

Hun Sen said that with no direct flights, the people from those countries can only reach Cambodia if they travel through another country or countries first – some of which may have bans in place on their entry – so it’s unlikely they would make it to Cambodia. But if they do, then a PCR test should be enough.

Although the Omicron variant is suspected by some scientists of being highly transmissible, Hun Sen advised the public to stay calm.

“Don’t panic. If you do, it could lead to a mental disorder. We should never be too brave or too scared. Try to walk the middle path,” he said, adding that preventive health measures should still be practised at all times with or without the new variant.

Separately, Hun Sen announced that Cambodia was giving 10 more refrigerated trucks to Laos.

The prime minister defended his decision to provide Covid-19 assistance to neighbouring countries such as Laos and Vietnam despite some critics saying that Cambodia was making donations to other countries while its own people are suffering.

According to Hun Sen, Vietnam helped Cambodia in 1979 by bringing about the collapse of the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia must be grateful for that, while Laos provided assistance in the aftermath.

“Laos has always had a good heart and we have to pay these debts of friendship back when we have the ability to do so. Right now, our friend is having a difficult time. I cannot forget them and we must not be a people without virtue,” Hun Sen said.

Earlier this week, Cambodia also donated $13 million to Laos to help the country fight Covid-19. The government also provided Laos with another 500,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines and two refrigerated trucks.