Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration extends lockdown as some residents complain of food shortages

Health officials spray sanitizer to fight COVID-19 in a red zone area of Sihanoukville on May 6, in a photo posted on the Preah Sihanouk provincial administration's Facebook page.
Health officials spray sanitizer to fight COVID-19 in a red zone area of Sihanoukville on May 6, in a photo posted on the Preah Sihanouk provincial administration's Facebook page.

Lockdowns in Preah Sihanouk province will continue for one more week, authorities announced Thursday, raising concerns among the poorest residents.

The provincial administration issued a decision signed by provincial governor Kuoch Chamroeun on May 6 and outlined new red zones, dark yellow zones, and yellow zones, based on infection rates. 

Villages 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 in Sihanoukvile’s Buon commune remain red zones. Muoy, Pi, Bei communes and village 6 of Buon commune were marked as dark yellow zones; and Bit Trang commune in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nop district was listed as a yellow zone.

According to the declaration, those living in red zones are not allowed to leave their place of residence for any reason except emergencies.

“The authorities who implement the lockdown have to carry out this measure strictly,” Chamroeun said in the decision, which adds that authorities can temporarily confiscate the vehicle of anyone caught illegally traveling.

As in Phnom Penh, many living in red zones in Sihanoukville said they have been struggling to feed themselves after two weeks of lockdown.

Solai Chav, a tuk-tuk driver from Muoy commune said he hasn’t been driving in months, after tourism plummeted in the wake of the February 20 community outbreak and inter-province travel was halted. But before the lockdown he managed to support himself and three children by selling seafood.

“Now, the big problem is I do not get income everyday,” Chav said. “I do not have reserves because my business just brings me a daily wage.”

“Now, we do not have money to buy food, so we only eat the remaining food that we bought in the past such as canned fish and dry fish,” he said.

He said that the local authorities have not registered anyone in his area, nor brought them food aid.

“Most citizens in my area are poor because they are factory workers,” Chav said.

He said that he has had to take out loans for his tuk-tuk and seafood selling business from microfinance institutions and other individuals, totalling $10,000, and he normally pays $350 a month on his debt.

“I do not know where I can find any money to pay them because I can not sell anything,” he said.

Nhem Sophal, a tuk-tuk driver who lives in a rental room in Buon commune’s village 5 in Sihanoukville, said he hasn’t been able to drive since the city went into lockdown two weeks ago, and thus receives no income.

He said he wasn’t worried about going hungry, as he had received food aid — rice, noodles, fish sauce, and soy sauce — from the government as well as an NGO. But “my problem is I do not have money to pay the rental room and utilities fee and the expense every day for meat, fish, and vegetables because I do not have income,” he said.

Sophal said his three children had been living with his in-laws as his wife is a factory worker, who has also been unable to earn a living in recent weeks.

Seng Nim, Buon commune chief, said food has been distributed to about 90 percent of the 10,000 families in need in the red zone.

“Because [the lockdown] impacted their living, the authorities distributed gifts for them,” he said.

Kheang Phearom, Preah Sihanouk provincial spokesman said the province received 36,000 packages of food aid from Prime Minister Hun Sen, which they have been distributing in red zones and dark yellow zones. He said the  Cambodian Red Cross as well as some local NGOs and humanitarians have also been distributing aid.

“The lockdown really impacted citizens’ living, so we started a campaign to distribute food to citizens who met with food shortage,” said Phearom.   

“The provincial authorities go down to distribute to any citizens who have met with food shortage immediately and we do not allow our citizens to be deprived of food,” said Phearom.

He said that provincial authorities previously prioritized vaccines for civil servants, members of the armed forces, citizens aged 60 and older, military veterans’ families, tuk-tuk, and taxi drivers but he did not know the total number of those vaccinated.

Last week, he said, the provincial administration requested enough vaccinations for everyone living in a red zone and dark yellow zone, as well as factory workers and foreigners living in the province.

He said the province has seen 2,168 cases of COVID-19, 900 of  them recovered and 1,200 currently sick.

An Rama, regional project officer of Central, who covers  Preah Sihanouk, Kampot, Kep, and Koh Kong, said the region has been hard hit as it relies heavily on tourism.

“Some people lost jobs or businesses because they are living in the red zones and some people met with food shortage,” he said.

Rama added that it would be better if authorities gave two or three days notice to residents ahead of lockdowns so they have time to collect enough food.

According to the Preah Sihanouk provincial administration, the province on Friday recorded 42 new cases of COVID-19 while the Health Ministry recorded 558 new cases of COVID-19 nationwide, including one imported case. As of Friday 114 people have died of COVID-19 — all from the latest outbreak. Health officials have recorded 17,623 new infections since the February 20 community event, with a total overall case count of 18,179 cases since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.