Residents of Phnom Penh rushed to stock up on food and other supplies on Thursday as word spread of a lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen to combat the coronavirus pandemic in the capital and surrounding Kandal province, sources said.
News of the planned April 15-28 lockdown, which leaked before an official announcement could be made, quickly drove up the prices of commodities as crowds filled local markets beginning Wednesday night, violating regulations restricting social contacts.
In a statement Thursday, Hun Sen urged Cambodian citizens not to panic, saying no one will go short of food in areas affected by the lockdown order.
“You won’t be worried if you understand about the lockdown,” Hun Sen said. “I would like to clarify that no one is going to starve, and that there will be no shortages of rice, salt, or other food in Phnom Penh,” he said.
Hun Sen added he would find and punish whoever had leaked word of the lockdown.
Vorn Pov, president of Cambodia’s Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economy (IDEA) organization, said however that the lockdown ordered by Hun Sen will cause shortages of food, leaving people hungry.
“In this situation, the government must respond quickly to people’s needs. The government must try its best,” he said.
Workers forced to stay home under lockdown orders will now have to look to the government for help to survive, said Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), speaking to RFA.
“Workers will need their salaries and benefits to continue during the lockdown so that they can remain at home. And the government will have to provide tax incentives and capital for any businesses that have to close,” he said.
Offerings to monks fall short
Buddhist monks living in areas outside Phnom Penh meanwhile said that support for the country’s pagodas may now decline, leaving Cambodia’s monastic community short of donations of food after the New Year.
“Things will be difficult because no one will come to offer food,” said Ngoeung Leng, a senior monk in Kandal province near the border with Vietnam. “We will need to pay for our own food, but we don’t have any income,” he said.
Mann Pheakdey, a monk living in Sihanoukville, said that support for his pagoda has already fallen off, with fewer people coming to make offerings after government authorities banned large gatherings.
“If this pandemic continues much longer, our monks will face food shortages and find it difficult to live,” he said.
Speaking to RFA, Seng Somony—spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of Cults and Religions—said that pagodas facing food shortages can report their circumstances to provincial authorities, who will resolve the situation.
Responding on April 15 to a question from RFA, Rhona Smith—Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia for the U.N.—criticized harsh steps already taken in Cambodia to control the spread of COVID, including restrictions on the freedom of movement and the publishing of personal health information.
“I understand that the Royal Government of Cambodia is taking extraordinary measures and have been closely following ongoing efforts to control and suppress community transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” Smith said.
“However, as the Special Rapporteur, my role requires me to also engage with the government by highlighting potential infringements of the international human rights norms and standards Cambodia has voluntarily accepted.”
“I and the other Special Rapporteurs are concerned that some elements of the government response could unnecessarily infringe human rights standards,” Smith said.
To date, 5,218 Cambodians have been infected by COVID-19, with 3,000 receiving medical treatment in hospitals now accepting no new patients, and more than 1,000 others being treated at home, according to figures released by the Ministry of Health.
Mao Ayuth, 77, Secretary of State for Cambodia’s Ministry of Information, this week became the 37th Cambodian to die of the disease, the Ministry of Health announced on April 15.
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