Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Sihanoukville placed under COVID-19 lockdown, with five villages designated ‘red zones’

Kuoch Chamroeun, Preah Sihanouk provincial governor inspects barricades in Sihanoukville placed to prevent people from entering or leaving the locked down area, in a photo posted on the provincial administration’s Facebook page, April 23, 2021.
Kuoch Chamroeun, Preah Sihanouk provincial governor inspects barricades in Sihanoukville placed to prevent people from entering or leaving the locked down area, in a photo posted on the provincial administration’s Facebook page, April 23, 2021.

Early Friday morning, Sihanoukville was placed under lockdown, making it the third city in Cambodia to face lockdown amid a worsening COVID-19 outbreak. Five villages were designated “red zones,” subjected to even stricter measures. The lockdown, which comes after nearly two months of a travel ban on anyone entering or leaving Preah Sihanouk Province, reflects the difficulty authorities have had in containing the outbreak.

The Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration issued two decisions signed by Provincial Governor Kuoch Chamroeun on April 22, locking down Sihanoukville and designating Villages 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of Buon commune as red zones, effective from April 23 to May 6.

The red zone measure was put into place after a community outbreak was discovered within those five villages. According to the provincial administration notice, individuals living in the red zone are barred from leaving their current homes or residences. Travel outside their home or shelter is not permitted, except for emergency medical trips and visits to health officials for COVID-19 tests or to receive their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccination.

The notice also ordered closed all markets and grocery stores, as well as nearly all other businesses within the red zone, with exemptions for fire services, electricity providers, water supply, emergency services, health providers, garbage collection, pharmaceutical and disinfectant suppliers, noodle production, cooking gas suppliers, and state food suppliers.

The move comes after local health authorities have confirmed more than 500 new cases of viral infection in the past five days.

Kheang Phearom, spokesman of Preah Sihanouk provincial hall said that the provincial administration had to issue lockdown orders in light of the worsening outbreak.

“We banned people from leaving their homes to protect against COVID-19,” Phearom said.

“If we cut off the [spread of] infection and we will manage it, we will have a hope [of stopping the outbreak]. But if the people still go out and in [the infection area], the infection will increase….when it will finish?” he said.

He said that as of April 22, a total of 1036 people in the province have tested positive for COVID-19, including 834 Cambodians, 174 Chinese nationals, 13 Vietnamese nationals, 11 Burmese nationals, one Thai, one Filipino, one Indonesian, and one Norwegian.

He added that among that group, 523 people have recovered, 509 people are being treated at the hospital, and four have died.

Phearom said that the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration also has closed three major markets in Sihanoukville because many vendors have tested positive for COVID-19. Phsar Loeu has been closed for ten days, Sihanoukville Commercial Center, also known as the Chinese Market has been closed for five days, and Commercial Market has been closed for a few days. With the closure of three large markets, he said, the government is trying to figure out how to prevent food shortages and is “studying immediately to arrange market stalls and food productions for people in town.”

He added that there have so far been more than 40 cases of travel ban violations; 10 cases related not failing to wear a mask in public places; and two cases in which people escaped from the quarantine center — all of which have been sent to the provincial court.

Phorn Ye, 47, a beach vendor from  Buon commune’s Village 4, said she and her husband had been out of work since the start of March, when the provincial administration began its travel ban.

“My family has not had enough food to eat for about a month, after the provincial administration banned travelling across the provincial border line,” she said, adding that they were struggling to support four children and her elderly mother. Ye sells food on the beach and her husband works in construction, and both have seen their work grind to a halt during the outbreak.

“Now, I have just ten cans of rice for eating and I do not have money to buy more, so I do not know who I can depend on,” Ye said. “Please, can the authorities help us because we can not do anything after our area was put in a red zone like this.”

Seng Nim, Buon commune chief, said Friday that he and other local officials met with Sihanoukville and provincial authorities about arranging to provide food and supplies for those living in the red zone and for poor residents in the larger lockdown area.

“They banned villagers from leaving their home to protect against the infection,” he said, but “we are preparing packages of gifts to provide villagers.”

Yeang Ren, 39, a representative of Spean Ches community in Sihanoukville’s Muoy commune said that his community has 55 families and most lack sufficient food, as they have been unable to find work even before the lockdown went into effect. Amid the outbreak and travel bans, tourism and construction — two of the city’s biggest employers — have all but stopped.

“Now, the provincial administration has decided to lock down Sihanoukville while we have already faced a problem with our living, so we will face even further lack of food,” Ren said. “Please can the authorities provide some gifts for us.”

Chhit Sophat, Muoy commune chief said the provincial Red Cross has provided some gifts for the poor and starting on Saturday the provincial Red Cross and local authorities will provide food to all people, except the wealthy, in his commune.

Cheap Sotheary, coordinator of human right group Adhoc in Preah Sihanouk province, who lives in Village 4 in Buon commune said that the lockdown is likely to worsen an already bad situation for many of the city’s poorest. Most make money through tourism, which has all but disappeared since the March travel ban.

“So when that area is locked down, people will be more impacted,” she said.

On Friday afternoon the Health Ministry’s said that it had recorded 654 news cases of COVID-19, including 113 cases in Preah Sihanouk, 522 cases in Phnom Penh, and the rest in Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu, Kep, Mondulkiri, Tbong Khmum, Takeo, and Kandal. Phnom Penh and neighboring Takhmao City, Kandal, were placed under a two-week lockdown on April 15.

As of Friday afternoon, 61 people have died of COVID-19 — all from the latest outbreak. Health officials have recorded 8301 new infections since the February 20 community event, with a total overall case count of 8,848 cases since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.