Some 10,000 Chinese nationals have received at least the first dose of the Sinopharm vaccine in Cambodia, the Chinese Embassy announced Wednesday, and government data shows nearly 1.3 million Cambodians have received the COVID-19 vaccine.
At noon Wednesday, the last Chinese national was vaccinated as part of the first phase of China’s “spring sprout vaccine” program, aimed at innoculating overseas Chinese citizens, as well as those from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, according to an embassy statement. The vaccination took place at Preah Ket Mealea Hospital, also known as Cambodia’s Military Hospital, confirmed director Ly Sovann.
Though Chinese government media has said the vaccine is available to any Chinese national, Sovann said it was given only to investors and skilled workers.
“They are not ordinary Chinese people that sell Chinese noodles and coffee,” Sovann said, adding that they had come to invest in projects such as “fast highways, the Siem Reap airport, and Dara Sakor.” Sovann was referring to a controversial Koh Kong development project that drew economic sanctions from the U.S. Treasury Department based on accusations of land evictions and corruption, but which also pointed at the resort’s potential to host Chinese military assets, a claim the Cambodian government has denied.
Sovann said that the vaccines came from the Cambodian government’s supply. “China helps us and we help them back,” he said.
He said first dose vaccinations at Preah Ket Mealea were temporarily suspended on April 20, amid the lockdown, but that the hospital was still providing second doses.
According to the Health Ministry and Defense Ministry, which issued its report on April 20, Cambodia has inoculated a total of 1,277,688 people against COVID-19, including civil servants, government officials, members of the armed forces and their families, the general public, and foreigners.
The Health Ministry said it had vaccinated 983,145 civilians, while the Defense Ministry had inoculated 294,543 members of the armed forces.
Keo Vanthan, deputy general director and spokesman of the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Immigration said there are 144,000 foreigners currently living in Cambodia, including 90,723 Chinese nationals.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said the ministry does not record foreigners who receive vaccination separately from Cambodian recipients.
Nearly all of Cambodia’s vaccines have either been donated by or purchased from China; most recently a shipment of 500,000 purchased doses from Sinovac arrived April 17. In total, Cambodia has so far received 1.3 million doses of China-donated Sinopharm, 1.5 million doses of Sinovac bought from China, and 324,000 doses of AstraZeneca provided by the WHO’s COVAX Facility.
Moeun Tola, executive director of labor rights group Central, said that it is critical everyone who is eligible to get a vaccine does so, including foreigners who live in Cambodia.
“I think that Chinese people receiving vaccines in Cambodia after their country donated vaccines for Cambodia is a humanitarian principle and a mechanism to protect against the COVID-19 outbreak,” he said.
Now that vaccines are more widely available overseas, he said, it would be good for Cambodia to require foreigners to be vaccinated before arrival, so that the country can prioritize Cambodians.
As of Thursday morning, 54 people have died of COVID-19 — all from the latest outbreak. Health officials have recorded 7,202 new infections since the February 20 community event, with a total overall case count of 7,747 cases since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.