Cambodia’s government has banned travel in and out of Phnom Penh and between any districts across the 24 provinces for a week amid fears people would ignore an official cancellation of the coming Khmer New Year break.
Initialed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, the order says that starting at midnight the government “bans travelling in the country, including: travelling in and out of Phnom Penh (without affecting travelling inside Phnom Penh), travelling from one district to another and travelling from one province to another province.”
It takes hold midnight Thursday going into Friday and runs for a week.
This year’s new year celebration had included an official break from Monday to Thursday next week. But it would have normally seen many heading back to their hometowns starting this weekend to maximize time with family.
Hun Sen on Tuesday announced the postponement of the break to stave off mass travel across the country in face of a pandemic. Many, however, had still planned to head back to their homes for the biggest holiday of the year.
The order says there will be exceptions for the transport of goods or movement by civil servants or other state employees going into the provinces, provided they have official purposes. It also says everyday service vehicles such as fire trucks, ambulances and vehicles transporting garment workers to work are exempt.
For vehicles going to hospitals, only four people are allowed inside.
After the order was leaked by the government-friendly news outlet, Fresh News, which often publishes official documents before competing outlets, Hun Sen wrote on his Facebook page that the order was necessary to slow Covid-19. He also appeared to flag a reversal on comments on Tuesday that it was unlikely he would use extensive new emergency power introduced last week.
“If there is a state of emergency law, that law will probably be used,” Hun Sen wrote in the post, which defended the travel ban as his best decision available.
Soeng Sen Karuna, a spokesman for local rights group Adhoc, said he was skeptical about the need for a travel ban at this time, even amid Covid-19. He questioned the timing of the ban, given that there had been reported cases of the virus in Cambodia for months and few government efforts to counter them.
“Now, the number of Covid-19 virus infections has decreased, so we do not understand why the government has measures to prevent Covid-19 through the banning of travelling around the country like that,” Sen Karona said.
He said that he understood the need for measures to prevent the spread of the virus but feared the government could abuse the measures put in place.
“We are just concerned that when the government is more strict on travelling, it could affect the rights and freedoms of the people,” he explained.