Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Citywide lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takhmao to end, though targeted lockdowns may remain

A man crosses a barricade blocking a Phnom Penh red zone, April 30, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
A man crosses a barricade blocking a Phnom Penh red zone, April 30, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

The government on Monday said it would lift the lockdowns of Phnom Penh and Takhmao City when they expire May 5, but may continue smaller targeted lockdowns of any areas with high rates of COVID-19 infections.

“Placing the lockdown measure for any part of Phnom Penh or Takhmao City, Kandal province, and other necessary measures to combat the outbreak of COVID-19, are the responsibility of the Phnom Penh governor and Kandal provincial governor,” read a statement issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The capital and neighboring Takhmao were placed under a 14-day lockdown starting April 15, which was later extended by one more week.

Keut Chhe, deputy Phnom Penh governor said that local officials spent all day Monday in meetings to discuss how and whether they could safely reopen.

“We held the meeting just to plan and we have not decided yet because the government will finish the lockdown on May 6, so today it is May 3 and we have two days more,” Chhe said.

Any decisions to keep targeted lockdowns will depend on what case figures look like as the citywide lockdown ends, said Chhe, adding that they would be looking at the infection rates on May 4 and May 5 and deciding as they change. In the meantime, he urged the public to simply focus on following the current restrictions.

“Please all people join to implement the government’s decision to finish it faster together to control the situation,” he said.

For the past two weeks, Cambodia has recorded an average of about 500 new cases of COVID-19 each day. On Monday, the Health Ministry announced there had been 841 new cases, including 525 cases in Phnom Penh, 153 cases in Banteay Meanchey, 62 cases in Preah Sihanouk, and the rest in Kandal, Kampong Speu, Takeo, Prey Veng, Tbong Khmum, Kampong Thom, and Siem Reap.

As of Monday 106 people have died of COVID-19 — all from the latest outbreak. Health officials have recorded 14,806 new infections since the February 20 community event, with a total overall case count of 15,361 cases since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

Hun Pheak, 30, a garment worker who is living in a red zone in Pur Senchey distirct’s Choam Chao 1 commune said that most workers in his area received food from authorities — enough to keep them fed for a few days longer.

“I received a gift from the authority three days ago, so this rice can be eaten until the end of the government’s closure [on May 5],” Pheak said. “If the government decides to extend the lockdown more days in the future, we will meet with food shortage again.”

He said that even with the food aid, garment workers still are struggling to pay for their rental rooms, water, and electricity, after spending nearly a month without salary. While the Phnom Penh lockdown went into effect April 15, some red zones have been under lockdown since April 10.

“Please help to facilitate the fee of our rental room, electricity and water because we do not have money to pay,” he said. Pheak said his own rental room costs $45, and he pays $15 to $20 each month for water and electricity.

“Now, we do not have a salary, so we will have many challenges in the future,” said Pheak.

Long Sarem, 42, a garment worker in Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey 3 commune — another red zone — said that she received a gift from the government that included 25 kg of rice, one case of noodles, fish sauce, and soy sauce. After one week, she said, she only has a week’s worth of rice remaining.

“The rice given by the government is nearly finished, so if the government will extend the lockdown more in the future, we will face food shortage again,” Sarem said.

Like Pheak, she said, she didn’t know how she would be able to pay her rent or utilities.

Villagers in a red zone building receive food donated by individuals, April 30. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

In Nak, 31, who usually works as a delivery person for Foodpanda, said that he hasn’t been able to work for nearly a month, since his Meanchey district neighborhood was put under lockdown.

“For a few days after the government announced to put Stung Meanchey 3 commune as a red zone, we found it difficult to buy any food because the authority did not allow sellers into red zones,” he said. Since then, he added, food has become easier to get as some vendors have been allowed to bring meat and vegetables by moto to the edge of red zones. But he has had to rely on government food aid as he no longer has a salary.

If the government allowed his area to reopen, Nak said, he would be able to support his family. If not, however, they would have to rely on government aid.

“I think that the government should distribute aid to all the people who meet with food shortage, if the government does not do this, citizens will starve,” he said.

Pang Lida, deputy Pur Senchey governor said authorities distributed food to about 30,000 families in Choam Chao 1 commune, which is a red zone. An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 garment workers live in Choam Chao I commune, he said.

“There remains a small number of families who do not receive gifts yet but now we are working day and night to distribute gifts in time for their needs,” Lida said.

On Monday, said Lida, district authorities in cooperation with health officials carried out COVID-19 tests for about 1,500 workers who are living along Veng Sreng street in Choam Chao 1 commune.

Yong Kim Eng, director of the People’s Center for Development and Peace, said that food shortages have been protracted throughout the city. The initial lockdown came with little notice and some shops sold out of food. Those living in red zones, meanwhile, had been barred from going shopping altogether.

“I think that it is not only the poor people who face food shortage but even medium income families have had food shortages, if they were not already prepared,” said Kim Eng.