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New vaccines arrive as COVID-19 case count continues to climb

A consignment of 1.5 million doses of CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Phnom Penh on Friday. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
A consignment of 1.5 million doses of CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Phnom Penh on Friday. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Cambodia received 1.5 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech, as the country sees a fast-spreading cluster of new cases, which resulted in 96 cases reported Friday afternoon.

The government purchased 1.5 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine from Sinovac Biotech, which can inoculate 750,000 people, said Vongsey Vissoth, permanent secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance. He said this put Cambodia on track to vaccinate at least 10 million of the country’s 16 million citizens and residents.

“It can guarantee that Cambodia will have vaccines for vaccination, at least, 10 million doses of vaccine to vaccinate for our people this year,” Vissoth said.

The vaccines arrive as Cambodia reported 96 new cases of COVID-19 taking the total number of cases in this cluster to 1,444, and 1,968 cases since January 2020.

Vissoth said Cambodia would get 700,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine next week – 400,000 of which are from a previous commitment to donate 1 million doses and the remaining 300,000 doses are a new donation from China.

Cambodia has so far used the Sinopharm and the Indian-made AstraZeneca vaccines across the country. The AstraZeneca vaccine was procured through the World Health Organization’s COVAX Facility, which aims to donate 20 percent of a country’s population.

Youk Sambath, a secretary of state at the Health Ministry, said the CoronaVac vaccine will be used for people aged 18 and over. She added that the 1.5 million doses cost $15 million and that the government was ordering an additional 4 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine.

Wang Wentian, China’s ambassador to Cambodia, said the new batch of vaccines will help Cambodia continue to protect its people from COVID-19.

“The Chinese vaccine is a wall to defend the Cambodian people from COVID-19,” Wentian said.

Government official Vongsey Vissoth greets the Chinese ambassador to Cambodia at a hand-over ceremony on Friday for 1.5 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

The Health Ministry statement released on Friday, which reported 96 cases, also showed that most of the cases were from Kandal province’s Koh Thom district, which is on the border with Vietnam and has a small casino town.

The Health Ministry also confirmed Cambodia’s eight death from COVID-19. A 55-year-old traffic police officer from Kandal province died on March 25 at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship hospital.

On March 25, the government reported two other deaths – a Cambodian man and a Chinese national in Koh Thom district. Both died the morning of March 25 and had severe lung damage.

The Health Ministry also enforced a mask mandate in Phnom Penh and four provinces, which are Kandal, Preah Sihanouk, Siem Reap and Prey Veng. The mandate was enforced using a March 22 prakas that also imposes severe fines for not wearing a mask, fines ranging from $50 to $250.

The government also arrested a 28-year-old truck driver for allegedly spreading fake information about COVID-19 vaccinations. Rights groups have criticized the government for taking a hard line on arresting people who were critical of its handling of the pandemic or for jumping to arrest people who maybe have communicated inaccurate information.

San Sok Seiha, a Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesperson, said Tor Channy, 28, was arrested on March 24 because he was spreading fake information related to COVID-19 vaccinations.

He was arrested in Kampong Chhnang province on March 24 and sent to Phnom Penh, where he would be sent to court.

“We arrested him due to incitement to lead to chaos in society,” said Sok Seiha.

Chhay Kim Khoeun, a National Police spokesperson, said that any person who committed a crime related to COVID-19 or the vaccine would receive penalties based on the law.

“Those people who abuse someone’s right and the state’s law must be punished based on the court’s decision,” said Kim Khoeun.

Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, said the government was sending mixed messages to people, but when citizens questioned it they were sent to jail.

He was referring to a press conference held by Prime Minister Hun Sen last year where he said he would eject journalists who wore masks, but now the government was imposing a compulsory mask mandate.

“I am concerned the authorities will use laws on COVID-19 to restrict other the people’s activities,” said Tola.

He added that the government should explain to people if they make a mistake rather than ordering their arrest.