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Pandemic in Cambodia may be under control but has the curve flattened?

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Workers preparing equipment for sanitisation works. Supplied

After eight days of no Covid-19 positive cases, Cambodia is quite confident that the pandemic is under control but not certain about whether the curve has been flattened.

The recovery rate after treatment is also high with 110 cases of recovery after admission to various hospitals in the country. The containment of the virus to just 13 provinces in the country shows that the authorities are capable of ensuring it does not become a nationwide pandemic.

There are a total of 122 cases reported with the last case revealed on April 12. Is the worse over? No one can give an accurate answer except that they are all weary of a second wave and the need to be on full vigilance and certain rights contained such as free entry into Cambodia, opening up of schools, gymnasiums, beer gardens and others as the economy is hurting and hurting badly.

The government is in a difficult situation. Lift containment measures and the risk of a sudden spike probably caused by asymptomatic people who may have the virus but do not show symptoms yet affect others wherever they go or with whomever they come into contact.

The authorities have done quite a good job of tracing people and getting them to tests. The question is will rapid testing be carried out at some stage to hasten the process to reach a calculated and scientific edition to ease restrictions?

Probably not, because of the constraints faced by the Pasteur Institute which can only test an average of 500 cases a day.

One has to remember that the first case was on January 27 and after that there was a full month of lull until the second case emerged on March 7 and the sudden spike with returning Cambodians from abroad after attending a religious congregation.

These clusters alone infected 31 Cambodians, 23 who had contracted the virus while abroad and eight infected by these people. On top of this, 13 Malaysians were also infected after attending the same congregation, thus the total infected from one single event is 44, which is almost a third of the total infected across the country.

Another cluster infection was the French tour group with almost 40 infections and second generation infection to Cambodians in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. They were already in the country before Cambodia’s air travel ban was enforced.

Many question Cambodia’s transparencies about the disease. Khmer Times believes it has been transparent and, although there are shortcomings, Cambodia has done remarkably well and one hopes it will continue to maintain this and adopt stringent measures to contain and bring the cases to zero completely.

While doing this, they should also study with their foreign counterparts how people who left Cambodia had become infected abroad when they reached their destinations, particularly China and Vietnam.

Lifting the travel restrictions on April 16 at midnight was the right move because economic activity needed to resume, even if it is on a small scale. The next step would be to seriously consider opening up bread and butter businesses such as gymnasiums, spas, beer gardens with social distancing in place and possibly even casinos if they can prove that they can enforce strict health checks at all times and enforce social distancing given that the number of workers affected by the closure of these and other businesses is very large and has greatly affected the country’s economy.

The media too is affected and, in this case, tax exemptions for a period of four months should be considered. Not postponement but the elimination of tax payments as responsible media such as Khmer Times pays its taxes on time – the minimum tax as well as value-added and salary taxes along with a litany of other taxes.

The country needs tax revenue. That is clear. An exemption of tax will ensure that in four to five months, tax payments will resume because if the company folds there will be no tax to be paid and workers will be out of jobs, affecting their families and their commitments such as bank loans for housing etc. There is a serious multiplier effect.

COVID-19 has brought many to their knees and a solution is needed from the government besides the health sector.

The Ministry of Health, although lauded, does have many weaknesses in terms of preparation, quick briefings, vague responses to questions and a lack of answers. It is still a ministry which needs a new stewardship, probably after the pandemic is over.

The minister cannot use COVID-19 as a success story, if it remains a success as a reason to hang on to his post. We can point out many weaknesses. Water has flown under the bridge but the impediments remain. Just one example is the lack of mass sanitisation of public places which poses dangers such as the track by the river near the Royal Palace, roads and other places.

This may not be the time to criticise the ministry because it is in the frontline in combating COVID-19 but facts remain and their inefficiency shows. What happens after the pandemic is over? Would it be preparing for the next pandemic or will it go into a slumber and only react when there is another one, heaven forbid. Let’s learn from the mistakes of other countries. Despite being advanced in every aspect they were brought to their knees because of two concepts – lack of preparation and complacency.

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