The Indian mission in Cambodia is actively working with the authorities of both countries to ensure trade does not get much impacted due to the coronavirus crisis. Speaking exclusively to WION (World is One News) Principal Diplomatic Correspondent Sidhant Sibal from Phnom Penh, Indian envoy to Cambodia Manika Jain said 200 Indians wanted to go back to India and for that, the mission is “coordinating with the headquarters to arrange for evacuation as soon as possible.” The Indian mission has also donated masks, sanitisers to a Cheychamnas Referral Hospital in the country with which it has a long-standing relationship
Wion: How is the Indian mission reaching to stranded Indians in the country? Any plans of repatriation? Any Indian infected with COVID?
Manika Jain: In March before the lockdown in India, Indian tourists in Cambodia were assisted to take a flight out from Thailand and Singapore as countries began to enforce travel restrictions due to the pandemic. The mission reached out to Indians through community organisations, embassy website, social media, emails as well as a 24-hour helpline. Further, I formed a task force consisting of prominent members to discuss the issue and provide help. We maintained regular contact through the community, WhatsApp, and video conference.
And we have also provided food and shelter to needy Indians who are stranded and have no resources. We visited the guest houses in which Indians have been accommodated to make sure that they are being taken care of and they do not have any issues. We also meet them regularly and guide them if they are in need of any further assistance. We are also providing medicines to those who need them. Fortunately, there are no coronavirus cases among Indians in Cambodia. Regarding the evacuation of Indian nationals from Cambodia, earlier the number of stranded Indians who wanted to go back to India were few. But now we have 200 people who are eager to return – so we have been trying our best and coordinating with the headquarters to arrange for evacuation as soon as possible.
Wion: How are India and Cambodia cooperating over the pandemic?
Manika Jain: India and Cambodia have friendly relations and the two countries have always cooperated in the past. We are cooperating during the current period of difficulties as well and hope to maintain the warm relations in the future too.
One important thing Cambodia is doing is that it is automatically extending the tourist visas of Indians who came to the country after January 1, 2020 and whose visas had expired during the period when travel restrictions were put in place. For other types of visas, the mission also has been taking the matter on case to case basis, with the foreign office and we are getting the necessary assistance.
Since trade has been severely impacted during the pandemic, the mission has been able to get assistance from Indian and Cambodian authorities in cases of import disruption, problems of custom clearances. Regarding assistance to Cambodia, we have donated material such as masks, sanitisers, soaps etc to a hospital in Cambodia with whom we have a long relationship. The hospital was very appreciative of our help, this institution has the only centre in the country treating child and adolescent mental disabilities and it is doing exceptional work. An Indian travel company is also trying to evacuate stranded Cambodians from India and get them back to the country. Overall Cambodia is appreciative of the steps taken by India in containing the pandemic.
Wion: How has the ground situation in Cambodia changed? And how have Indian diplomats been faring?
Manika Jain: Cambodia has been fortunate to not have any lethal effects of the pandemic. Till date, no death has been reported. The total number of infected cases were 122– we have not seen single addition in last one and half months (at the time of the interview). All 122 patients were cured and out of these 122, more than 60 were foreigners.
Despite weak health infrastructure and limited testing, I would say Cambodia with the help of international partners has been able to contain the pandemic well. As mentioned earlier, no Indians were infected. A complete lockdown was never enforced; some restrictions were put in place. They are being slowly eased off, particularly because the Cambodian economy has been hard hit. We are following social distancing and wearing masks, and govt has been cautioning the people in continuing the precaution in order to prevent the second wave. The international community including WHO is weary of a second stronger wave of infections. Many foreigners and diplomats continue to work from home and Indian diplomats are also taking physical precautions like others, but haven’t stopped working even during the peak of infection.