Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday afternoon called for stronger measures in Phnom Penh and Kandal’s Takhmao city, saying too many people had been violating a two-week lockdown that began Thursday.
In an audio message posted to Facebook, Hun Sen said there had been too many people on the streets since the lockdown began, making it impossible to curb the spread of COVID-19. He called for stricter measures that would bar people from leaving their homes unless it is urgent.
“I would like to order all levels of relevant authorities to reconfirm for our people that for this time you have to stay at home, stay at your village, stay at your district, you have to stay wherever you are staying for 14 days,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen.
People will be allowed to leave their home or village only if they have any emergency cases, he added
“I would like to confirm that this lockdown won’t allow people to leave home. There will be some exceptional cases but don’t use this as an excuse for leaving. Now I issue the order which does not allow people to leave or enter Phnom Penh.”
He didn’t give details about which cases are considered exceptions. According to a government directive issued on Thursday, people are allowed to leave their homes for exercise, food and medicine shopping, and medical appointments — but with strict regulations related to frequency and group size. It is unclear if the new announcement bars these activities, and officials interviewed were unable to clarify.
Under the directive, some travel is still permitted, especially for certain classes of workers who have recognized work certificates. These include foreign diplomats and embassy staff, as well as those employed with UN agencies and other international organizations. Journalists are allowed to travel for work, with the correct documentation.
Truckers hauling food and other necessary items from neighboring Kandal province are still allowed access to Phnom Penh. Travel is permitted for essential workers including those in health and pharmacy services, food production, banking and telecommunications. Staff at hotels and guesthouses, gas stations, marts, restaurants and delivery services may also travel for work, though authorities have asked these service providers to reduce their activities to a minimum.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said he heard that people are still gathering for drinking parties and that local authorities took action by arresting and sending them to the court.
“I am encouraging them to send those cases to the court without forgiveness for anyone who violates lockdown measures and other sub-decree and directives,” he said.
“I would like all of you to join together to bring back our country as normal. If you won’t do that, the issue still continues which affects our country.”
On April 6, Hun Sen issued a statement barring Inter-provincial travel from April 7-20 to contain the pandemic over the Khmer New Year, with exceptions for emergencies, cargo transport, worker transport, and special cases, and travel between Phnom Penh and Kandal province.
However, he said, he learned that some people sneaked out of Phnom Penh to visit their home provinces farther away. Those people tested positive for COVID-19, causing community spread in rural areas.
He also urged authorities to investigate rumors that some people were being smuggled from one province to another by ambulance. He asked the local authorities to collect information from those arriving from Phnom Penh to find out what their reasons were for leaving and then provide that information to the Phnom Penh authorities in order to further strengthen enforcement. Hun Sen said that if the situation does not improve, the government will extend the lockdown another 14 days
Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman San Sok Seiha, said that police have enough forces, including military police and security guards in each district to implement “a new order” if people are to be barred from leaving their homes.
“We are waiting on a decision from the governor; they are now in the meeting following orders from Samdech [Hun Sen]” he said.
Kim Nheb, Dangkao district governor, said that authorities will implement what the government has ordered to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Vendors can move as normal related to transporting foods and vegetables,” she said, before hanging up the phone.
Khuong Sreng, governor of Phnom Penh Municipal, declined to comment saying that he is busy implementing a new measure from the head of the government.
Met Measpheakdey, spokesman for Phnom Penh City Hall, could not be reached for comment.
Soeung Senkarun, a senior investigator at rights group Adhoc said that the government appeared to be rushing a decision as people are not prepared to completely halt their work or ability to go to the markets.
“There are a lot of impacts that we are not ready for,” he said. He added that if there is a house-by-house lockdown authorities should facilitate daily support for the poor.
“The public is not clear in regards to this house-to-house lockdown whether they can go out for buying food or something else,” he said.
But he said it seemed previous measures had not helped prevent the spread of COVID-19 from one area to another.
A Friday afternoon statement from the Ministry of Health announced 262 new cases related to the February 20 outbreak. Of those, 232 cases were recorded in Phnom Penh, which has now seen 2,107 new cases diagnosed within a week. Health officials have recorded 4,938 new community infections in the current outbreak with a total overall case count of 5,480 cases.