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Hun Sen’s calculated gamble in allowing MS Westerdam to dock amid COVID-19 fears, wins over doomsayers

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Prime Minister Hun Sen, on the face of adversity had difficult decisions to make when MS Westerdam, castaway by five countries sent an urgent call to dock at Sihanoukville as it was running critically short on fuel and supplies.

Despite the positive decision to allow the vessel to dock and passengers to disembark, there were many who predicted doom and gloom and even predicted that Cambodia may have unwittingly exported the COVID-19 to other countries with the returning passengers.

Not only did Prime Minister Hun Sen not wear one, assured that the ship was virus-free, his bodyguards ordered people who wore masks to take them off. The next day, the US ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy, who brought his own family to greet the passengers streaming off the ship, also went maskless.

However, the decision proved to be the right decision as none of the 2,257 passengers and crew onboard, safe one, were tested positive and all passengers have now either headed or are heading home, again thanks to countries which allowed the passengers to transit there or had allowed their aircraft to ferry the passengers from the Westerdam.

“Cambodia’s Coronavirus Complacency May Have Global Consequences, ” said a bold quote published in The New York Times, ignoring the fact that a bulk of the passengers returning home were American citizens.

“Now, health officials worry that Cambodia has opened its doors to the outbreak, and that the world may pay a price as passengers from the cruse ship Westerdam head home,” read another.

All proved to be misplaced and a smear campaign out of rage for Cambodia being in the limelight for the right reasons while Japan was in the opposite end and have to eat humble pie.

Speaking at the closing of Interior Ministry’s 2019 annual meeting on Thursday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said that Cambodia has done a huge humanitarian work by allowing Westerdam to dock safely after the giant cruise was rejected by several ports.

“Covid-19 issue has not ended; now passengers of Westerdam are on their flights back home as told by minister in charge of civil aviation. We have done a great deal of humanitarian work so far. Health Minister Mam Bunheng confirmed that all the tested passengers and the crew of Westerdam were found negative of Covid-19,” the premier addressed.

Prime Minister Hun Sen allowed the Westerdam cruise, which has 1,455 passengers and 802 crew on board, to dock in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville port after she was refused entries by Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Guam, South Korea, and the Philippines with a fear of Covid-19.

On 14 February at the Sihanoukville port, Strongman Hun Sen visited Sihanoukville to greet the passengers of Westerdam cruise personally; shook their hands; and presented bouquets of roses to them.

“People talk of fear of Covid-19, but for me, I think different. When asked if Cambodia would allow the cruise to dock if the passengers were infected Coronavirus. The answer would be I allow the ship to dock as soon as possible, as we cannot leave the patients to die in the sea,” Prime Minister Hun Sen sent a message to the world.

“Coping with the virus is the global responsibility and that it is Cambodia’s responsibility on behalf of member of the international community,” he said, adding that, “how could we talk about respecting human rights if the right to living is not even respected.”

“Cambodia prioritises respecting human rights; first and foremost, we must respect the rights to living of more than 2,200 people with 41 nationalities on the cruise,” he continued.

Cambodia’s right decision to allow the docking of Westerdam has been applauded by World Health Organisation, the World Tourism Organisation, The World’s Most Beautiful Bay as well as from President of the United States Donald Trump but not from their mainstream media. Fresh News/Khmer Times

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