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Clock ticking for Cambodia in quest for Virus vaccine

Khann Chanvirak / Khmer Times Share:
This file handout photo taken on December 6, 2020 and released by the Indonesian Presidential Palace shows workers unloading the 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine made by Sinovac, upon its arrival from Beijing at Jakarta’s international airport in Tangerang. Photo by HANDOUT / INDONESIAN PRESIDENTIAL PALACE / AFP

As countries around the world are scrambling to obtain doses of vaccines against COVID-19, the clock is ticking for Cambodia to pre-order any.

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After three days of meetings to discuss sourcing and funding for a vaccine, both the Health and Finance ministries are still mum on what plan of action the Kingdom has come up with, following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order for them to do so.

Even the World Health Organization  Cambodia representative is unsure about how and when Cambodia can get a vaccine by only saying that just like any other countries under the Covax initiative, the Kingdom will be entitled to get doses for 20 percent of the population and, if approved, doses will only be rolled out to countries early or mid-next year.

In contrast, Asean regional neighbour Malaysia has reportedly pre-ordered 12.8 million doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Reuters, Pfizer will deliver the first one million doses in the first quarter of 2021, with 1.7 million, 5.8 million and 4.3 million doses to follow in subsequent quarters.

Indonesia on Sunday announced it had received its first shipment of a vaccine from China.

The 1.2 million doses were secured from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd and the government is working to obtain another 1.8 million doses by early next month.

Thailand has reportedly signed an advance agreement with British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca to secure a supply of its vaccine.

On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the Health and Finance ministries to allocate money and purchase COVID-19 vaccine doses. He suggested the Minister of Health discuss this with the WHO to determine which country Cambodia should purchase the vaccine from.

As of Wednesday evening, Mr Hun Sen said he has received more than $36.8 million from donors for purchases of the vaccine.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said yesterday that Cambodia has not made a decision yet on what type of COVID-19 vaccine to buy and where it will be sourced from.

“All vaccines currently developed have still not been approved by the World Health Organization,” she said.

However, she said Cambodia would not wait for the WHO to officially approve any vaccine before going ahead to seek supplies.

The WHO representative in Cambodia Li Ailan told Khmer Times via email yesterday that WHO and partners are working hard to bring safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines to high-risk and priority populations in all countries as quickly as possible, through the COVAX Global Vaccine Facility.

“Through Covax, it is expected that Cambodia will receive vaccine support equivalent to 20 percent of doses for the total population,” she added.

She said even when the first COVID-19 vaccines are approved by national regulators, they will still have to be manufactured and distributed to countries.

“Given the current rate of progress, we expect vaccines to begin arriving in countries sometime in 2021. We hope a vaccine will be available in Cambodia early or mid-next year, but the exact timing is not certain,” she said.

Ailan said with WHO support, the government has developed its draft National Deployment and Vaccination Plan in preparation to deploy a vaccine, whenever it is available.

“While there has been good news in terms of vaccine development and Cambodia’s readiness for receiving vaccines and funding mobilisation, it may take some time before COVID-19 vaccines become widely available,” she said.

COVID-19 vaccines will only be available for use in a country after they have been approved by the national regulatory authority; use in the COVAX Global Vaccine Facility requires either approval by a stringent regulatory authority or WHO Emergency Use Authorization or prequalification.

Meanwhile, Cambodia’s community outbreak contact tracing has expanded to Kampong Cham, Mondulkiri and Kratie provinces.

The Ministry of Health yesterday called on all patrons of a restaurant, Ta Moeun House, in Kampong Cham province to come forward and take COVID-19 tests.

This comes after a patient who tested positive on Tuesday, was identified as having visited the restaurant, located near the Kizuna bridge on the night of December 2.

The COVID-19 positive patient, Ith Komal, 35, lives in Phnom Penh and went shopping in Zando on November 27. He also visited Kratie and Mondulkiri, forcing the temporary closure of two hotels in both provinces yesterday.

Mondulkiri Provincial Governor Svay Sam Eang on Wednesday ordered the closure of Relax Hill Resort in Sen Monorom City after a visit by Komal.

Health Ministry officials taking samples from a family member of an employee at Champa Pich Hotel in Kratie province. Kratie Provincial Information Department

Sam Eang said that in order to prevent the community outbreak, the resort had to be closed until December 24.

He said the city administration has also ordered seven people coming in contact with Komal to get their samples tested and go into quarantine.

Sam Eang also appealed to all the guests who stayed at the hotel from December 2 to 9 to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

In a related development, health officials yesterday took samples of employees of the Champa Pich Hotel and their families, totalling 71 people, in Snuol district, Kratie province.

Komal had stayed there overnight on November 30, before going to Mondulkiri province.

The governor of Snuol district, Sam Nal said: “On Wednesday afternoon, the authorities temporarily closed the Champa Pich hotel.”

In addition. Kandal authorities have ordered the temporary closure of the Vihear Tranh pagoda located in Prek Sleng village, Kandal Stung district after a local resident there tested positive for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry announced yesterday it would no longer post photos of COVID-19 patients because the ministry respects individual’s rights.

Disclosure of the patient’s name is enough, Vandine said, adding that once the community outbreak has been fully contained, the ministry will also no longer use the patient’s name.

“We must also consider the dignity and rights of individuals. No one wants to be infected with the virus,” she said.

Cambodia’s community spread yesterday rose to 39 cases from the Zando cluster and there was also one imported case, bringing the infection tally to 356.

A 37-year-old Cambodian man, Khon Praseur, from Boeng Kak II commune, Tuol Kork district, Phnom Penh, tested positive after he shopped at Zando’s Boeung Keng Kang 1 branch on November 27. He is currently being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital.

The imported case is a Cambodian man, Ye Veasna, 29, from Toul Prich commune, Ang Snuol district in Kandal province. He returned to Cambodia from Japan via South Korea on November 18.

He tested positive on his second test conducted on the 13th day of quarantine. He is now being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital.

Two passengers on the flight he took had been found positive during their second test on December 1. They are being treated at Chak Angre Health Centre. Another 35 passengers are still in quarantine at the air force base in the capital awaiting another test.

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