Prime Minister Hun Sen sent the right message in every possible way when he called for his people not to panic. It is a pro-active move that fits well when it comes to information flow and crisis communication in government.
At times of uncertainty, it is understandable that people become concerned when they learned that a 56-year-old Cambodian lady contracted Covid-19 and travelled to many places. As the nation’s leader, it is his job to put context on the event and prevent uninformed gossip and advise appropriate action. It encourages people to take control by being vigilant, improving protective measures and adapting to the new normalcy.
The Premier’s first voice clip, released late evening on 28th November 2020, asked his people to not go outside after he learned that there is a threat of possible spread of Covid-19 in Phnom Penh after the lady, a senior police official’s wife, tested positive for Covid-19 the same day.
He told the public that the spread could possibly have occurred at Aeon mall, which the lady visited last week, or the Interior Ministry, where the lady’s husband attended a meeting on 24th November, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister, Sar Kheng, Interior Minister, along with 11 other senior officials.
“For the Aeon one mall, we need temporary closure for a short period. I ask our people not to panic, but they must improve their individual protection from the virus”, said the Premier, who added: “they must follow the Health Ministry’s instructions. They must seek consultations with doctors should they suspect they have contracted Coronavirus”.
Deputy PM Sar Kheng, Minister of interior, said that he himself has to self-quarantine and called on his interior and police officials to follow the health instruction to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. This is another information management flow, in the sense that the government accepted the facts and at the same time applied measures needed to be taken by the concerned institutions.
The seriousness of the female patient of Covid-19 is indicated by the health experts assessment that, “the lady’s test showed that it contains high level of the virus”.
On the 29th November 2020, the test results also confirmed that five other family members—including her husband, a police official, had Covid-19.
Although no one knows for sure where and when she had contracted the Coronavirus, but it is believed to be from Siem Reap province within the previous ten days.
That prompted the Premier to alert the public and ask them to continue to follow health instructions given that she had visited other provinces of Siem Reap, the home of Angkor, and two other provinces.
Mr Hun Sen also asked people to “avoid any mass gatherings” although he did not call for the closure of the schools in the said provinces, and to keep wearing mask and maintain social distancing, which are still necessary measures.
The son of the 56-year-old patient, had also tested positive, prompting the government to temporary close the local school he attended.
“In this situation, the government takes the measure of quarantining people who had either direct or indirect contact with the lady, along with taking specimens to test for Covid-19,” he said.
“This is the best and most urgent measures to get them to stay at home so as to contain the virus spread,” said the Prime Minister’s voice clip circulated via the Telegram messenger group.
“We must go with the new normalcy. I hope our people understand this”.
As a strategic wise leader, he also convinced the public, saying that the news report of Covid-19 this week will not impact his plan on 30th November, for the groundbreaking ceremony of road construction in Siem Reap province.
“I hope all will be able to overcome this hardship.”
Cambodia had another success story from the 3rd November 2020 event in Phnom Penh when four people, including three Cambodians and the Hungarian ambassador, contracted the virus from the visiting Hungarian Foreign Minister. Thatevent was concluded after more than 1,000 people had tested negative three times for Covid-19.
As of 30th November, 2020, there is no deaths from Covid-19 in Cambodia thanks to the government’s efforts along with support from friendly countries such as China, the USA, the World Health Organization (WHO) and others.
The WHO has recently praised the Kingdom of Wonder, Cambodia, for its great management in containing the spread of Covid-19. As of Tuesday, Cambodia has 326 cases of Covid-19 nationwide of which 304 have recovered.
It is very important to be the first out there with accurate information, as stated by the Premier. This helps the government to not only ensure the flow of accurate information but also prevents people from panicking, because any chaos will bring negative impacts on social, economic and public order.
“Only through quarantine we can overcome covid-19 since we did not know how the lady contracted the Coronavirus and where else she went to,” the Premier affirmed his measures.
Ek Tha is a Standing-Vice Chairman of the Royal Government Spokesperson Unit, spokesman of the Council of Ministers, advisor to the Ministry of Information