The Cambodian government announced it is locking down eight provinces along the Thai border in order to curb the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19, and installing nationwide restrictions on restaurants, cinemas, museums, and entertainment venues, as well as travel curfews, amid a surge in neighboring Thailand.
On Wednesday the government announced the lockdown of Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey, Battambang, Pailin, Koh Kong, Pursat, Preah Vihear, and Siem Reap provinces, for 14 days, from July 29 to August 12.
As in previous lockdowns elsewhere in Cambodia, varying levels of restrictions — red, yellow, and dark yellow zones — will be instituted based on case count.
Anywhere that the highly contagious Delta variant is present would automatically be set as a red or dark yellow zone, notes the announcement.
The order calls for provincial governments to control travel between neighboring provinces as well.
It also calls for them to coordinate with Thai authorities to provide healthcare for any infected Cambodian migrant workers before they are sent back to Cambodia, as well as coordinate with migrant workers who wish to return to Cambodia to delay their return until lockdown is finished, it said.
The announcement also asks the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to urgently work with their Thai counterparts to close the border temporarily for all travelers, except for goods. While the Thai side of the border has long been closed, the Cambodian side previously remained open for returning migrants.
According to the Ministry of Health on July 27, 39 cases of the new variant Delta have been found in five of the above provinces.
A statement signed by Banteay Meanchey provincial governor Um Reatrey on Thursday, said the provincial administration closed the border checkpoint between Banteay Meanchey province and Sa Kaeo province starting on July 29 to August 12.
“Please inform the Sa Kaeo Provincial Administration of the Kingdom of Thailand about the temporary closure of the border from 23:59 on July 29, 2021 until August 12, 2021 for entry and exit (workers, vendors and traders) except for the transportation of goods and special cases authorized by the competent authorities, such as emergency patients,” the provincial administration said.
Also on Thursday, the government announced it was suspending operations nationwide for all entertainment businesses, including resorts, museums, cinemas, and sports clubs. Restaurants are permitted to stay open but only for take-away meals.
The government also announced a travel curfew for parts of Phnom Penh as well as other provinces, banning travel between 9 pm to 3 am except for emergencies.
Phnom Penh City Hall issued its own 14-day citywide curfew: residents are not allowed to leave their homes from 9 pm to 3 am.
Roeun Sothy, deputy director of Banteay Meanchey provincial health department, said that there has been an increase in the past month Cambodian migrant workers returning from Thailand, with 400 to 500 workers crossing back into Cambodia each day.
He said that a total 10,854 people have tested positive for COVID-19 including more than 3,500 migrant workers since the February 20 community outbreak and that more than 4,000 people are currently quarantining at quarantine centers in his province.
“There were only 18 cases of Delta variant in Banteay Meanchey province, which came from Thailand since April,” Sothy said.
Sothy said that before June, community infection was the primary source of COVID-19, but that since June most of the cases are linked to returning migrant workers.
“Locking down can help to reduce the outbreak of the new COVID-19 Delta variant in the community,” Sothy said.
Soeum Bunrith, deputy governor and spokesman for Battambang province, said Battambang still primarily has seen infections through community outbreaks and those traveling from other provinces, as not many migrant workers have been returning through its border checkpoints.
“On Wednesday, 125 people who tested positive of COVID-19 include 38 migrant workers,” he said.
He said that there were eight recorded cases of the Delta variant in May and June and that all recovered.
Tou Savuth, deputy governor of Koh Kong province, told CamboJA that since the first outbreak of the coronavirus, a total of 3,978 people have been infected and 21 have died so far.
“Generally, the workers are still coming, but they are small, some days… there are only two or three or four people,” he said that at the border checkpoints, there are checks and restrictions on passengers as well as passing workers.
“When they come to the front of the line, we rapid test them. If they are positive, we take them to the center and do not let them go to the districts and villages,” he said.
Residents who test positive are sent to the community infection centers, while returning migrant workers who test positive are sent to their own center as an added precaution to preventing the spread of the new variant.
Ny Sokha, president of rights group Adhoc, said the lockdowns are critical to protecting further outbreaks, but he urged the government to ensure people had enough to eat once their livelihood is cut off.
“The government must support the citizens’ food every day and especially they must support any citizens who lives hand to mouth, such as citizens who work in an informal economy,” said Sokha.
Moeun Tola, president of Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL) told CamboJA that the lockdown reflects the government’s acknowledgement of the seriousness of the Delta variant.
“Due to the fear of COVID-19 and job loss caused by COVID-19 pandemic, more Cambodian migrant workers have returned Cambodia from Thailand, therefore, the government, especially the provincial authorities at the border provinces, should expand the quarantine sites, and provide basic support while they are quarantining,” said Moeun Tola.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Health reported 765 new cases of COVID-19 including 328 imported cases, bringing the total count to 75,917 including 10,049 imported cases since the pandemic began in early 2020. The large majority of these cases have been recorded since February 20, when the ongoing community outbreak began in Cambodia. The ministry has also recorded 68,386 recovered cases and 1,350 deaths from the virus.
(Additional Reporting by Chea Sokny and Ngay Nai)