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Cambodia deserves praise for its COVID-19 success

Kimkong Heng / Share:
Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital medical personnel bid farewell to a successfully treated COVID-19 victim previously. Hospital Facebook page

In May 2020, Cambodia had a brief COVID-19 victory when its last COVID-19 patient was discharged from hospital. On 11 September Cambodia announced zero active cases of COVID-19 again, making it the only country in Southeast Asia and few in the world that had no active cases of COVID 19 during this crisis time.

Considering this positive COVID-19 situation, Cambodia deserves applause and praise for its relative success in containing the spread of COVID-19.

It is worth noting that between June and July when Cambodia resumed flights to welcome passengers from other countries, a total of 113 new cases were confirmed. In August, Cambodia reported 35 new cases. As of 13 September, there were 275 confirmed cases, of which 274 have recovered. All of the 149 confirmed cases since June were imported cases. Fortunately, so far there has been no community transmission of COVID-19 in Cambodia. With strict screening at border entry points, new COVID-19 cases will be confirmed, quarantined and treated promptly. This will continue to help keep the spread of the virus under control.

Until now, there have been no deaths from COVID-19, which is impressive, although one man died during quarantine in late July. If compared with other countries in Southeast Asia and across the world, Cambodia performs very well in terms of managing the spread of COVID-19.

Critics have argued that the COVID-19 infection rate in Cambodia is low because there are not many COVID-19 tests compared with other countries. Further, they suspected that the Cambodian government may have underreported cases. This speculation appears to be reasonable yet not without flaws.

In the era of Facebook and with the rise of fake news, information travels quickly and easily. So, if many people become ill and die of COVID-19, people will take to Facebook and Telegram to share news and express their concerns. This makes COVID-19 coverup less successful as evidenced by China’ COVID-19 experience.

Thus, Cambodia’s present COVID-19 success should be acknowledged and applauded, especially when many countries across the globe are desperately trying to reduce or stop the spread of COVID-19.

In Southeast Asia, only Cambodia and Laos have so far reported no deaths from COVID-19. Other countries in the region such as Indonesia and the Philippines suffer the worst. According to data in worldometer, as of 13 September, Indonesia had 8,723 deaths from COVID-19 while the Philippines had 4,371 deaths. Malaysia came third with 128 people dying from the virus. There are now more than 13,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Southeast Asia, an overwhelming majority of which are from in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Considering all these numbers, Cambodia is particularly fortunate to have only one active case and no deaths. Therefore, its COVID-19 victory, although it may be temporary, should be commended.

Cambodia’s success in weathering the COVID-19 crisis in terms of infections can be explained by a number of reasons, some of which included testing and contact tracing, temporary suspension of foreign visas, temporary travel restrictions, border closures, COVID-19 screening of incoming passengers, mandatory quarantine and isolation, and cancellations of key national celebrations such Khmer New Year, among other measures. Cambodia has also received technical and financial support from both local and international donors.

Even though at this stage it is too early to declare a COVID-19 victory, given the impressive number of recovered cases and zero deaths from COVID-19, it is possible and perhaps crucial to acknowledge and applaud the government’s good performance in dealing with COVID-19.

Despite this, it is also important to criticise the government’s poor performance in other areas. For instance, the government has recently arrested more than 10 environmental activists and youth. These arrests followed an arrest of prominent union leader Rong Chhun who has been an outspoken government critic. These arrests need to be exposed and questioned so that the government may rethink its repressive measures and end its crackdown on human rights activists and democracy advocates.

According to Article 35 of Cambodia’s constitution, Cambodian people have the right “to participate actively in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the nation.” They also have right to take part in strikes and peaceful demonstrations (Article 37). Thus, activists and ordinary Cambodians alike should have full freedom to voice their concerns, criticise the government’s underperformance and express their disagreement over certain policies and state actions.

Yet, when there are achievements or improvement, they need to be acknowledged and applauded. This is to be fair for the government and the many officials who have contributed to the success or positive social development.

In fact, it is vital to recognise good performance, including the successful control of the spread of COVID-19, while at the same time condemn the government’s opression on its citizens.

Obviously, as a small developing country, Cambodia is confronted by many issues including the need to navigate the intensifying US-China rivalry and the fact that Cambodia’s international image seems to be faltering. To move forward, the country needs active participation from Cambodian people from all walks of life.The government needs both constructive criticism and recognition to move forward. There has been widening divisions among Cambodians who support different political parties and such divisions are likely to grow in the current political climate. In this regard, all stakeholders in Cambodia, particularly the government must find solutions to bridge the gap in beliefs and understandings among Cambodian people.

No doubt, a united Cambodia will strive and prosper, while a divided Cambodia will surely go into decline, lagging behind many other countries in the region.

Kimkong Heng is a PhD Candidate at the University of Queensland in Australia and a visiting senior fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. The views expressed are his own.  This is the personal opinion of the opinion contributor  and does not reflect the position of Khmer Times

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