PM: No post-holiday Covid case jump

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People enjoying the last day of the Water Festival at the riverside area of Chroy Changvar district in Phnom Penh on Saturday. Hong Menea

Prime Minister Hun Sen said the number of new Covid cases did not significantly increase due to the reopening of tourist spots and heightened domestic travel during the Water Festival and Pchum Ben holidays.

He made the remarks on November 23 at the inauguration ceremony for the Stung Trang-Kroch Chhmar Cambodia-China Friendship Bridge at Prek Bakk commune’s Boeung Deng village in Kampong Cham province’s Stung Trang district.

The bridge connects to the eastern bank of the Mekong River at Trea commune’s Kdol Kandal village in Tbong Khmum province’s Kroch Chhmar district.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of National Road 71C also took place.

“With more than 88 per cent of the population vaccinated across the country, we’ve reopened now and this was the first time that the people were allowed to take a break. After Pchum Ben, the number of infected people went up slightly but then the numbers decreased,” he said.

He said he also told the public to take a break during Water Festival to promote domestic tourism and over the holiday more than one million people travelled to destinations across the country.

“I am extremely proud of the Cambodian people. Although some feared that vaccinations would kill them, over 14 million people have now been vaccinated. I’m even more proud that our people have changed their attitudes. We must acknowledge and encourage these brave changes in attitude and make it a habit of our people,” he said.

He added that during the Water Festival, authorities had widely noted that people were wearing masks, using hand sanitisers and maintaining physical distance and the rate of new infections was still under 50 per day after the holiday.

“I would like to ask that our people continue to have a cautious attitude. For whom? Not for me, but for each individual. Every family has to protect themselves. I am happy to continue to reopen this country without looking back,” he said. “I am confident that the opening of the country at this time will not be reversed because the situation is not the same as before when we did not have protective vaccines.”

Hun Sen also noted that the $2.3 billion in reserve funds that the government had to spend on Covid-19 prevention and mitigation efforts would have been enough to build 20 bridges like the one he was opening that day.

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Heavy traffic on the streets of Chroy Changvar district on the last day of the Water Festival. Hong Menea

World Health Organisation (WHO) representative to Cambodia Li Ailan told The Post on November 23 that the Kingdom has been making calculated risk-based decisions about saving lives and protecting people’s health while planning for and implementing the safe and sustainable reopening of the economy and society, especially the reintroduction of safe tourism.

She said the Water Festival would provide a great opportunity to test how well Cambodia’s systems and society – including local government, the tourism industry, individuals and communities – are prepared to learn and adjust in order to sustain the reopening efforts.

“It becomes even more important now to follow Covid-19 preventive measures and ensure good compliance with them because it is not too late to prevent a big surge that may overwhelm the healthcare system. The pandemic is not over. Together we must aim to avoid crossing the red line and to protect the vulnerable within the context of a safe reopening,” she said.

Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said on November 23 that she had observed that a lot of people had travelled to different tourist attractions over the holidays and they were careful to protect themselves and had changed their habits.

“According to the ministry’s report there has been no increase in cases of Covid-19 yet. But we will continue to monitor this situation and see what happens in one or two weeks,” she said.

Li said it was commendable that the government, health workers, community and partners have all worked together to achieve world-leading vaccination rates and ensure that the vulnerable such as the elderly are protected.

“Even when fully vaccinated we can still get infected and still infect others. Therefore, it is important that we all stay vigilant, especially to protect the vulnerable. We are entering the ‘new normal’ phase of the Covid-19 pandemic and we must maintain physical distancing and the wearing of masks when needed,” she said.

She added that while vaccination is necessary and effective at reducing severe disease and deaths, it is not enough on its own.

“The virus is still circulating and will continue to be here. We don’t want to see a large increase in cases that might overwhelm our healthcare capacity. We may still see some targeted closures and measures to maintain community safety. This is to be expected, and we must stay prepared for it even as we are returning to work, school and community life.

“We will be living with the virus from now on,” she said.