Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Phnom Penh’s internet cafés closed to contain the pandemic

People use free wi-fi at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, February 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
People use free wi-fi at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, February 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

The Phnom Penh municipal authority on Saturday ordered a temporary closure of all internet café businesses in Phnom Penh to contain the spread of Covid-19.

 “[We] have also noted that the current Covid-19 transmission is coming from the internet café shops,” reads the announcement from City Hall. “All internet café business owners must follow the instructions, or they will face legal action.”

City Hall spokesman Meth Measpheakdey said the shutdown was necessary as internet cafés often host many customers in a small space. The cafés are available for internet services, but are often most popular among young gamers and are sometimes found to offer illegal online gambling.

“Many people can be found gathering at such places, so it is taking a risk. We must temporarily close the business even though they don’t provide online gambling, which is an illegal act,” he said.

San Chey, executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, welcomed the move, saying that it is another measure to prevent the virus spread.

However, henoted that now that free wi-fi is accessible in many coffee shops, restaurants, and business, few people use such cafés for work.

“I think those people who go, go for online gaming only. This should be the government’s priority measure as well as to crack down on gaming to ensure community security,” he said. “We know that youth who are addicted to online gaming go there to bet online, and those people may not pay attention or worry about Covid-19.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2019 issued a directive banning all online and arcade gambling in the Kingdom in a bid to safeguard security and public order.

Cambodia has recorded a total of 1,632 cases of Covid-19 — more than 1,000 of them related to a single community transmission cluster that began on February 20, 2021. It has recorded three deaths, two of which occurred Friday.