PM mulling emergency as virus cases rise to 96

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
People buying face masks. Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned of stern action against those who raise the price of facemasks and other protective gear. AFP

The Ministry of Health on Wednesday confirmed five more cases of coronavirus infections, bringing the total to 96.

Two of the five infected persons are French tourists visiting Sihanoukville. The pair, aged 60 and 64, are among the more than 30 French nationals and their two Cambodian tour guides who were quarantined at a hotel in the coastal town after their testing proved positive. All are being treated at the hotel itself.

In Phnom Penh, a 27-year-old Cambodian man also tested positive for Covid-19. He is being treated at the Chak Angre Krom Health Centre in Meanchey district. The ministry said his girlfriend tested negative.

In Kandal province, a 59-year-old man contracted the virus after coming into direct contact with a 60-year-old Muslim who recently returned from a religious gathering in Malaysia. He is being treated at the provincial hospital.

In Siem Reap province, a 37-year-old man tested positive and is being treated at the provincial hospital. He was the driver for the French tourists who also tested positive after travelling to Sihanoukville from Siem Reap.

Six of 10 people from Battambang province who had also been in direct contact with the same French tourists tested negative, while the other four are awaiting test results as of press time.

In Tbong Khmum province, a 52-year-old man has recovered and been discharged from the hospital after testing negative twice.

And in the capital, three infected Cambodian men have also been discharged from the same health centre after testing negative twice.

In light of the growing number of Covid-19 cases recorded in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has told a legal team to study the scope of Article 22 of the Constitution in regards to declaring a state of emergency, if his appeals on the measures to contain the disease are not effective.

“I am looking at the possibility in Article 22 of the Constitution to request the King to declare a state of emergency. I don’t want to use it, but if my appeal [to the people] is ineffective, Article 22 of the Constitution will be used.

“It states that ‘in a disaster or emergency situation, the King can declare a state of emergency upon the advice of the prime minister, president of the parliament, and president of the senate’.

“Therefore, upon following these procedures, I can request the King to issue a royal decree declaring a state of emergency,” Hun Sen said when addressing 422 voluntary medical personnel before they joined the Ministry of Health’s efforts to halt the spread of Covid-19 in the Kingdom.

He said he is considering calling for a state of emergency to be declared partly because his appeal not to increase to the price of face masks had been ineffective.

“This is our shortcoming because we did not imagine the possibility of declaring a state of emergency. If it is applied, civil right will be curtailed. Some countries applied this measure and used soldiers and police to enforce the law.

“But for us, we can talk, although I don’t deny the possibility of using Article 22 of the Constitution,” he said.

The prime minister warned that the measure should not be considered as persecution against the people, but instead as “a strict way to prevent death”.

He said Thailand and India have already declared a state of emergency. Public gatherings, and keeping people at home and many more restrictions would be studied by his legal team. It would be mass confinement allowed by the Constitution, he said.

“So, analysts should not claim that Hun Sen is manipulating Article 22 to violate civil rights. Don’t use double standards. When China closed Wuhan in Hubei province, you said China had put restrictions in place.

“But when Western countries imposed a lockdown, you said it is a measure to prevent disease. Don’t apply double standards,” he said.

Hun Sen also laid out additional measures in his campaign against Covid-19. He told the authorities to contain the import of the disease, and halt its spread within the Kingdom.

Cambodia, he said, will not evacuate its citizens and students from China, Korea, Asean countries, the US, and Europe. Bringing them back under the current situation is risky as it will raise the possibility of importing Covid-19.

He said an urgent task now was to control Cambodian migrants who just returned from Thailand. He ordered local authorities in the Kingdom to visit their homes and tell them to self-quarantine.

Hun Sen also told all government officials to cancel overseas missions and international meetings in Cambodia. The Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) scheduled for November could also be postponed if the situation does not improve, the prime minister said.

Another priority is to work with Thai authorities to safely and in an orderly manner, repatriate Cambodian workers so they can be given medical check-up upon entry into the Kingdom.

“The Thai-Cambodian border authorities are responsible for this. Now we are looking for those who have already entered the Kingdom. But for those have not yet arrived, I assign this job to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Last night, I give the job to four people. Samdech Krolahom Sar Kheng was told to put order in our provinces, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was ordered to work with the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Labour was told to look into matters concerning workers, and the Ministry of Health will continue to identify and suppress the spread of the disease,” he said.

The prime minister also ordered the relevant authorities to continue searching for those who had not been examined and to place them at a treatment facility or quarantine for 14 days.

“The people are who are to be searched for are those having connection with patients. When they are found, they have to be isolated but not yet hospitalised before their test results are confirmed, he said.

Hun Sen reiterated the halt to public and religious gatherings, and the closure of entertainment venues such as KTVs and nightclubs, and museums, theatres and public concerts. He said some officials had over implemented by closing noodle and rice shops, and cafés.

“But I want to make it clear that the government has no plan to close markets, restaurants, cafes, and especially factories. The government will still allow Khmer New Year celebrations but forbids mass gatherings. People should just enjoy it with their families.”

He also said no superstitious beliefs should be employed to eradicate Covid-19. He called on the authorities to promote good hygiene practises and for all factories and companies to pay due attention to the health of their staff and workers.

He said Cambodia has prepared over 3,000 separate rooms to treat patients, he said.

“These messages come from the commander of the anti-Covid-19 campaign who is giving the commands,” he said referring to himself. “This is the fierce combat and we are confident we will win against Covid-19.”

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