Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered military doctors to vaccinate the residents of Phnom Penh’s so-called red zones, areas of the city locked down amid a recent surge of COVID-19 infections, but residents forced to stay at home say their greatest need is food.
Many have been confined to their homes for weeks, and have been blocked from going out to make purchases needed to feed their families, one resident told RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday.
“I am begging the government to help us,” said Mong Koeun, who lives with his family in a rented room in Phnom Penh’s Sangkat Stung Meanchey district.
“If we can’t go out to do our daily work as usual, please help us with food or with money so that we can support ourselves,” he said, adding that he recently saw news of a distribution of food in the area, but that his family had been overlooked.
“We have been facing a great deal of hunger and malnutrition so far,” he said.
Mong Koeun’s comments came after Hun Sen ordered doctors this week to vaccinate all residents of red zones, with a voice message sent on May 5 to officials extending the time available for the task.
Nearly 150,000 have already been vaccinated in the red zones, and Cambodia now has enough vaccines available to inoculate at least 520,000 people more, Hun Sen said.
“Another 500,000 doses will arrive [from China] on May 11, and another 500,000 doses will come on May 15. So we will have an additional million doses on hand,” Hun Sen said, adding that residents should observe social distancing when going to get their vaccines.
Non-residents should also not enter the red zones to get vaccines for themselves, he added.
Weeks of lockdowns in Phnom Penh have hurt the city’s poor the most, said Sum Samon, director of the Urban Poor Women’s Development Organization (UPWD). Government has been slow to act, and red-zone residents have been begging for help every day, she said.
“Another problem has been a lack of the things needed to guard against infection, as the poor don’t have enough money to buy hand sanitizer or masks that need to be regularly changed,” she said.
Call for access
In a May 5 statement, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Cambodian authorities to immediately grant unrestricted red-zone access to United Nations agencies and other aid groups, and to end “abusive police enforcement of public health measures.”
“Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government is failing to meet its obligations during the pandemic lockdown to protect poor and vulnerable communities,” said HRW Asia director Brad Adams.
“The government should immediately allow UN agencies and aid groups full access so they can help hungry people with food, health care, and other essentials necessary for their survival,” Adams said.
In neighboring Laos, 46 new cases of COVID-19 infection were recorded on May 5, with 19 reported in the capital Vientiane, 15 reported in Bokeo province, six reported in Champassak, and six reported in Savannakhet.
A total of 1,072 cases of COVID-19 infection have now been reported in Laos since the pandemic began, with 99 patients recovered, 973 still receiving medical care, and no deaths reported.
The Lanxang indoor sports complex at Donekoy village in the Sisattanak district of Vientiane has meanwhile been turned into one of three makeshift hospitals now operating in the capital.
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