Cambodia’s COVID-19 crisis

Cambodia is in the throes of a serious coronavirus wave, and lockdown measures are hitting its poorest citizens hardest.

Expatriate Cambodians now living in Perth, who fear for family and loved ones, say the situation is a mess.

On April 14, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced an initial two-week lockdown of the capital Phnom Penh and the nearby Ta Khmau city.

Phnom Penh’s usually busy streets have been deserted. Photo: Raksmey Bo.

Yesterday, the country recorded a record high of 698 new cases, with today’s new case numbers expected to be over 800.

Cambodia had previously been successful in its management of the pandemic until an outbreak in February this year.  

The locked-down area has been divided into red, orange and yellow zones, with red zones where the highest cases of COVID-19 have been recorded, and where the strictest lockdown rules apply.

Raksmey Bo, who works for an international NGO, lives near the Orussey Market in Phnom Penh, which has been shut after it became the site of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The area is now classed as a dark-yellow zone and he can only leave home for essential shopping and medical appointments.

Mr Bo witnessed panic-buying when the lockdown was first announced.

“Immediately, people rushed to the food stores and the markets. Some people just bought as much as they wanted because they had money, but other people were not able to because they only have what they earn on a daily basis.”

He says many people in the city are struggling, with many having lost their income due to the lockdown and all cheap street food outlets closed.

Raksmey Bo talks about how people have responded to the COVID-19 outbreak. Video: Kasey Gratton.

Theary Som works as a centre manager for Transform Cambodia, an organisation which provides free school and support for the most vulnerable children in Phnom Penh.

The lockdown has forced all lessons to go online, which Ms Som says has put many students who do not have access to reliable internet at a disadvantage.

Many of her centre’s students and their families are also in red zones and struggling to put meals on the table.

Phnom Penh’s usually bustling streets have been quietened by the COVID-19 lockdown. Video: Kasey Gratton.

“Some of the parents have lost their jobs or have been unable to work,” Ms Som says.

She has been organising for food packs containing two-week’s worth of rice and non-perishable food items to be delivered to the families.

This has been even more beneficial to Transform Cambodia’s students as some graduated students working for food delivery organisations have been hired to deliver the packages.

With most people working from home, the city’s streets are quiet. Photo: Raksmey Bo.

Sokha Cole is a Cambodian expat living in Perth and describes the situation in Phnom Penh, where many families have been confined to tiny apartments, as a “mess”.

“It’s not just ‘shut down and everything will be fine’. A lockdown won’t work like it has in Europe because Cambodia is a developing country.”

Her parents and extended family live in a village away from Phnom Penh, where there are limited medical facilities.

Sokha Cole discusses some of the food-related issues Cambodians in lockdown face. Audio: Kasey Gratton.

She worries about what will happen if the lockdown is not successful and the virus spreads outside of the city.

“If something happens there like in Phnom Penh, I will cry every day,” Ms Cole says. “It’s not really bad yet like it is in India, but the government doesn’t have good solutions to control the virus.”

“If the government here is thinking about helping Cambodia, that would be a good thing.”

Categories: COVID-19

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