Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Government lifts travelling ban between provinces even as COVID-19 outbreak continues

Authorities block National Road 3 from Phnom Penh to Kandal province during lockdown, April 25, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Authorities block National Road 3 from Phnom Penh to Kandal province during lockdown, April 25, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

The government on Sunday announced it was lifting a ban on travelling between provinces in order to prop up the economy, but restrictions remain on who can travel and three cities remain under lockdown.

Prime Minister Hun Sen issued an order on April 25, lifting the travel ban and re-opening tourist sites across the nation following a 20 day travel ban. The number of COVID-19 deaths reached 74, according to a Health Ministry statement issued Sunday, with a total of 9975 cases since country outreach COVID-19 last yest year. On Sunday, 616 new cases had been recorded, 546 of them in Phnom Penh.

On April 6, Hun Sen issued a statement halting travel between provinces from April 7-20 to contain the pandemic over the Khmer New Year.

Tourist sites and resorts were ordered closed from April 7-20, and provincial administrations were given the power to ban travel between districts and communes at their discretion.

After the two-week halt, the government issued another statement to continue the ban on travel and the tourist site closures without an end date.

Phay Siphan, government spokesman, said that the government decided to lift the ban in order to improve the economy and people’s livelihoods, and that it was appropriate to do so because local authorities have managed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the provinces.

“We have lifted up a ban because we can control the situation in the provinces,” Siphan said. “People’s livelihood will return to normal upon revoking the ban,” he added.

“It really affected [people’s livelihood] during the ban on travelling, but people’s lives are very important.”

He said that people are now able to travel across provinces, but not into or out of Phnom Penh, Takmhao City, and Sihanoukville — which are all under lockdown.

Sok Lou, governor of Kampong Thom province, said after receiving the announcement Sunday afternoon, he ordered police officials to remove the barricades that had been placed on local highways.

“I have already lifted up a ban after receiving the letter of Samdech Techo [Hun Sen],” he said.

“This decision will facilitate people for travelling and help people’s financial situation,” Lou said.

Nget Chou, an independent economic analyst, said he believed ending the travel ban will help people, particularly those who need to travel for work, such as those moving goods, but that it would be unlikely to lift up the economy overall.

“It can help some part of the economy, but it is not really 100 percent related to the recovering economy, because the majority of the economy comes from Phnom Penh,” he said.

Authorities block National Road 3 from Phnom Penh to Kandal province during lockdown, April 25, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Authorities block National Road 3 from Phnom Penh to Kandal province during lockdown, April 25, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

According to audio leaked and posted on Fresh News, Kouch Chamroeun, governor of Preah Sihanouk province said that Sihanoukville would remain locked down but authorities would allow travel on a regulated route between Kampot and Koh Kong provinces — a route that runs through Preah Sihanouk province.

“The whole of Sihanoukville city,” he said remains “thoroughly banned.”

Or Vandine, spokesman of the Health Ministry said via Telegram that she urged the public to stay home in order to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

“Lockdown is not lockup and is a temporary measure with a defined duration only,” she said. She added that everyone needs to be carefully prepared in advance before leaving lockdown, and be prepared to continue using caution, otherwise the resurgence of COVID-19 may be catastrophic.

“If we don’t want to return to the lockdown situation, everyone must prepare to change your way of living to a new normal,” Vandine said. “I wish everyone health and safety from COVID-19. Thank you very much for joining hands to fight COVID-19,”

In a statement issued Sunday, WHO Cambodia said that while Cambodia had seen cases surge over the past two weeks “hope is not lost.”                                 

“We know that it is never too late to turn the outbreak around – hope is not lost, as long as Cambodia acts as one. One nation and one society – all committed to fighting COVID-19 in solidarity,” said Dr Li Ailan, WHO Representative to Cambodia.

The statement commended “strong leadership in Cambodia” that had taken “difficult decisions and actions” but warned more would be needed to fight back the outbreak. The statement outlined a raft of actions the garment sector, businesses, restaurants, and markets could take to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — to ensure social distancing, mask compliance, and tracing and testing — and urged the public to remain vigilant.

“Our collective health depends on individual behaviors like never before. The small everyday decisions that are individually made, like where to go shopping, or when to go to work, seem harmless and inconsequential. But, when they are multiplied across an entire country – it is the sum of these decisions that can dictate a country’s success or failure in controlling the virus,” it said.