Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Hun Sen orders nationwide rapid tests, says Cambodia is relying on China

A man uses a rapid COVID-19 test by himself in Phnom Penh, July 1, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
A man uses a rapid COVID-19 test by himself in Phnom Penh, July 1, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that Cambodia is depending on China for its COVID vaccination strategy, while ordering the nationwide use of rapid testing to contain the pandemic. He encouraged the private sector to also conduct rapid tests on their own staff.

Speaking about the COVID-19 situation in a public Zoom meeting with government officials on Thursday, Hun Sen announced that Cambodia had so far received more than 11 million doses of the COVID vaccine — mostly from China — and had already vaccinated 4.2 million people.

“We rely on China for our vaccination strategy,” he said. “If I [wait for other sources of the vaccine], we will not have vaccines for people. If we did not have China as a friend, we could not have vaccinated four million people so far. And my decision is right, [we don’t care] who wants to say whatever they want.”

Hun Sen said that Cambodia had just received 324,000 doses from the COVAX facility out of the 7 million doses that have been pledged.

“Some [countries] just promised, but in the end there was no vaccine, and only China,” he said. “Some said that Hun Sen’s legacy is the vaccine, yes, you are right.”

Hun Sen said that Cambodia needs to have enough vaccines to vaccinate 10 million people in the first wave before thinking about vaccinating children under the age of 18.

He said that Cambodia will receive 20 million doses of the vaccine from China alone, with 5 million doses arriving in July and 4 million in August.

Previously, Australia promised to donate 3 million doses of the vaccine. The prime minister has also asked for 4 million doses from the United States.

The US government last month announced that it would be donating COVID vaccines to ASEAN countries including Vietnam, Thai and Laos. Cambodia’s relationship with the US has been strained recently, with the US seeing Cambodia as moving closer to China in many ways, including militarily.

In an interview with CamboJA in June, US ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy said that the US’s foreign policy is to help the entire world to have the vaccine.

When asked why the US does not provide vaccines bilaterally to Cambodia, Murphy said the US’s bilateral vaccine donation is focused on countries in the most urgent need, or to international facilities.

“We are the largest donor to the COVAX facility, we committed $4 billion to that facility,” he said. “Cambodia has already benefited from distribution through COVAX and can expect more vaccines going forward.”

Murphy said that Cambodia’s request for doses of vaccine has been sent to authorities in Washington and the process will continue. “I can assure you that it is a matter of US policy until all countries can get the population vaccinated without political considerations,” he said.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 transmission remains high, with Prime Minister Hun Sen ordering the preparation of more hospitals and healthcare centres in the districts as well as nationwide rapid tests, especially along the borders. He announced that 10,000 rapid test kits will be sent to each province.

“We need to restrict border crossings both by land, water and air, and all border checkpoints must have rapid test kits,” he said.

The prime minister said that private companies or enterprises can now conduct rapid tests on staff or employees.

“We must allow private companies to do rapid testing by themselves, and they can control their employees,” he said.  “And I would like to call on private companies to buy rapid test kits for their own use.”

He ordered the training of private staff in conducting rapid tests. Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said that following the suggestion of the prime minister, technical officers will be providing guidance on how to use rapid tests for private companies who wish to prevent their employees from contracting COVID-19.

Cambodian Labour Confederation president Ath Thorn supported the decision, saying that it would help workers who are currently spending money on rapid tests.

“Workers are currently facing difficulties in outside rapid testing with high costs, which is a challenge for them,” he said. He added that it may not be easy for private companies to spend money on the kits either.

“In general, employers don’t intend to pay unless there is coercion or legal requirements,” he said. “To be effective, the government must require companies to conduct rapid tests, especially for garment factories, which face high risk of infection.”

Thorn said that currently, community transmission among workers was much greater compared to the previous lockdown.

Cambodia recorded 999 new cases of COVID-19 and 26 deaths on Thursday, raising the total to 51,3854 cases and 628 deaths.