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Cambodians, including medical staff taking COVID-19 SOPs lightly

Brian Badzmierowski and Tith Kongnov / Khmer Times Share:
Interior Ministry officials practice social distancing while waiting to be tested for COVID-19 following the November 28 incident. KT/Siv Channa

A random check at three hospitals and two health clinics in Phnom Penh yesterday revealed that some complied with the Ministry of Health’s directive on wearing facemasks and social distancing while some did not.

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The non-compliance was despite the COVID-19 signage put up strategically on plastered walls and chairs of the hospitals.

At Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital many people were found without face masks and some were huddled in groups. Attempts to speak to the management and doctors were denied.

However, Khmer Times reporters were able to speak to some patients who expressed concern over the hospital not enforcing strict adherence to the Ministry’s SOPs and guidelines.

A male patient who did not want to be identified had come to the hospital to do a COVID-19 swab test as he is flying off to Norway.

He said he noticed that people pay less attention to prevention techniques but wasn’t sure what could be done to rectify the issue.

“I think about it but what can I do about it? I try to keep my distance and at least wear my own mask,” he said.

The patient had visited Calmette Hospital earlier in the day and said stringent preventive measures were in place including temperatures taken of all those who walked in, hands were sanitised and a full-body disinfectant shower was mandated for all visitors.

Whereas at Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital, anyone can simply walk through the gates.

“It’s a little bit worrying. Hopefully, we can get in and get out without being infected,” he said.

A young female patient who was wearing a mask but sitting next to a mask-less friend said she was surprised to find that social distancing and mask-wearing wasn’t strictly enforced.

“When I first arrived here, not many people were wearing masks. I felt uncomfortable,” she said.

She said she wasn’t concerned about her friend because she knew him.

She added that she noticed of late people have been complacent in the wearing of face masks and when she advised some of them, she was rebuked.

“I feel that the adherence is not fully practiced because people have other important priorities to attend to, especially to work or finding jobs,” she said, adding that times are challenging and many are jobless and have no income.

However, a check at Ang Duong Hospital showed strict compliance with the SOPs as patients are made to sit separately in spaced-out chairs and everyone must wear a mask upon entering the premises.

At Isabel Poly Clinic, a staff member named Lea said she is not sure whether they received any clear instructions from the Ministry of Health on how to enforce stringent measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“I’m not sure because we never had any directives from the ministry. I think all the clinics do what they chose to do,” Lea said.

At Chhour Y Seng Clinic, a staff said virus prevention techniques were adhered to, but ironically she was not wearing a mask and neither were some patients who were at the lobby.

Lea said that it was the CEO’s prerogative to enforce preventive measures and it had yet to become a main priority at the small clinic.

She said she wore masks regularly in the past but stopped when fear surrounding COVID seemed to subside in the capital.

“It’s complicated because when COVID-19 comes and goes, people tend to stop social distancing.  That’s the reality. I don’t want to lie. It’s the reality here.”

A check around Phnom Penh showed many people of different walks of life wearing and not wearing a face mask and generally, social distancing was not strictly followed.

Lea said there is a relaxed vibe as to wearing a face mask and social distancing wherever one goes and it’s the same in the city and outside the city.

“I went to the provinces and it’s nonexistent. No masks, no prevention,” Lea said.

As the November 28 incident recedes further into the rearview mirror, it appears Phnom Penh is settling into one of its more relaxed phases regarding masks and distancing.

Reasons why people are relaxing vary, but one café customer outside Calmette Hospital summed it up by saying that face masks are expensive.

Cambodia’s COVID-19 cases remain one of the lowest in the world at 392 cases and no deaths.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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