Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Border COVID-19 surveillance enhanced ahead of Chinese New Year, vaccinations to begin next week

Defense Minster Tea Banh and Chinese Ambassador Wang Wentian are dressed in PPE during a visit to Preah Ket Melea Hospital in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Panha Chhorpoan
Defense Minster Tea Banh and Chinese Ambassador Wang Wentian are dressed in PPE during a visit to Preah Ket Melea Hospital in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Panha Chhorpoan

Cambodia will enhance surveillance for COVID-19 along the border with Vietnam and Thailand ahead of next week’s Chinese New Year holidays, as Prime Minister Hun Sen is set to kick off vaccinations against the disease next week.

The first batch of Sinopharm vaccines from Chinese pharmaceutical firm Beijing Institute of Biological Products will arrive in Cambodia on Sunday and will be received by the prime minister, according to a post on his Facebook page.

At the same time, the government is stepping up its monitoring migrant workers returning during the Chinese New Year holidays next week to ensure there isn’t a spike in cases.

Hun Sen said he and other senior officials will be the first to get the vaccine at Calmette Hospital on February 10, but that Defense Minister Tea Banh would not be inoculated because he had already taken the vaccine. Hun Sen did not elaborate when or how Minister Tea Banh had been inoculated.

Minster Tea Banh and Defense Ministry Spokesperson Chhum Socheat could not be reached for comment Friday morning.

Minister Tea Banh and Chinese Ambassador Wang Wentian visited staff at the Preah Ket Mealea Hospital on Wednesday, where half of the 600,000 Sinopharm doses will be stored.

Srey Vantha, deputy director of Preah Ket Mealea Hospital, said the hospital had made arrangements to refrigerate the vaccines. The Sinopharm and Astra Zeneca vaccines require regular refrigeration temperatures unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

“We are only keeping the vaccine for military staff, around 300,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Vantha said.

According to a distribution report from the WHO-led COVAX facility, Cambodia will receive nearly 1.3 million doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine by the second quarter of this year. The global program aims for an equitable distribution of vaccines to developing and least developed nations.

With the Sinopharm and AstraZeneca deliveries, Cambodia will have nearly 2 million doses, which can be used inoculate 1 million people. Cambodia can expect more vaccine deliveries from the COVAX facility, which provides vaccination for up to 20 percent of a country’s population.

On Thursday, Hun Sen said he was worried about a new variant of the coronavirus entering into the country from Vietnam, as well as the ongoing outbreak in Thailand. At least 90 Cambodian migrant workers returning from Thailand have tested positive for the disease.

“If we do not pay attention, our country will be destroyed by COVID-19 coming in from Vietnam and Thailand,” he said.

The prime minister said transportation of goods will continue unimpeded and would not affect trade with neighboring countries.

On February 4, Health Minister Mam Bunheng issued an “Emergency Use Authorization” for the Sinopharm vaccine. The health minister also issued a directive asking border officials to be vigilant for people entering or exiting from Vietnam.

“All relevant authorities, especially all provinces along the border with Vietnam, must monitor thoroughly the health of passengers who travel in and out through border checkpoints and test all passengers who travel into Cambodia and put them in quarantine for 14 days,” Bunheng said in the statement. 

CamboJA spoke to the provincial officials in both Kandal and Takeo who said they were taking extra precautionary measures to ensure that everyone crossing the border was tested and sent to quarantine.

Ly Saveth, deputy governor of Takeo, said they had already taken additional measures to monitor border movements and all four border districts were already working to protect against COVID-19.

“We are just reminding our forces and officials to pay extra attention,” said Saveth.