Cambodia is tentatively planning to reopen schools – at least at the secondary level – when the vaccination of children aged 12-17 is completed, even though daily transmissions and deaths in other age groups remain high.
Schools across the country have been suspended since March 20, one month after the third community cluster transmission broke out on February 20. Classes have been conducted virtually since then.
As of July 18, the Kingdom had recorded a total of 67,181 Covid-19 cases with 58,930 recoveries and 1,106 fatalities.
Prime Minister Hun Sen on July 16 said in an audio address to the nation that children aged 12-17 in Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kandal and Preah Sihanouk will be vaccinated soon on a voluntary basis.
“There is a need to vaccinate children and youths aged 12 to 17. According to the statistics provided by [Minister of Economy and Finance] Aun Pornmoniroth, there are ... around two million children and youths, so we need around four million more doses,” he said in an audio address to the nation on July 16.
“I've already told them to procure more vaccines. So far, the number of vaccines we have received and are expected to receive is 22 million. And if we count vaccines that will come through donations [as pledged], we will have more than 31 million. But then again, we cannot be sure that the promises will materialise, so we cannot count them as vaccines we have on hand," he said.
Hun Sen said that given that the current vaccination campaign is focused on the remaining four million people aged 18 and over, vaccinations for children may start now with Phnom Penh, Kandal and Preah Sihanouk.
“I appeal to all parents and caretakers to get ready to bring their children to get the vaccines soon. We want to achieve herd immunity which will enable us to reopen the economy, especially schools which we have closed and permitted only distance learning. This is a loss for us,” he said.
If children aged 12-17 are vaccinated, schools from secondary to higher education levels can reopen. He told Phnom Penh, Kandal and Preah Sihanouk governors to get vaccination teams ready in cooperation with the ad-hoc national Covid-19 vaccination commission.
The commission must also work hard to negotiate with vaccine-producing countries, especially China, in purchasing the vaccines for children and youths. The relevant authorities also have to think of children who will reach the age 12 soon, he said.
He noted that the vaccinations for children would be on a voluntary basis. But because no vaccinees, including centenarians, have reported any major side-effects, he believed that parents will bring their children for vaccinations.
The education ministry said: “This strategic decision creates more opportunities in the preparations for reopening secondary education institutions step by step when vaccinations are completed in the near future.”
Education ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha told The Post on July 18 that they are working with relevant ministries on the vaccination campaign for children and youth. Parents and caretakers of children will receive the call from the ministry soon.
“[This] is a great decision to vaccinate about 2 million children and youth aged 12-17,” Soveacha said.
In mid-June, more than 100 private educational institutions requested that the education ministry reopen schools, saying that otherwise they might be forced to close permanently due to bankruptcy.
The ministry has referred the request to Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth, who is also chairman of the standing committee of the national committee for combating Covid-19, for consideration.
Pech Bolen, president of the Federation of Education Services in Cambodia, said on July 18 that he applauded Hun Sen’s decision to vaccinate children and youth, which could lead to school reopening in the near future.
“The quality of education for children can be ensured via virtual education, but we are concerned about the mental and physical health of the 13-18 age group. They are in the classes which require exams; grades 9 and 12,” he said.
“We are ready for it. We already have the standard operating procedures that the education ministry announced earlier. We have experience and we always take the precaution of preventing transmission,” he said.
If vaccination for children and youth could be accomplished in September or October, it would push for schools to reopen faster and the quality of education would also improve, Bolen said.
Heng Ty, a resident of Boeung Tumpun commune in the capital’s Meanchey district, said he has two children who are at grade 9 and in year one at university. He was happy to hear that the government will administer vaccines to children.
“I am happy because I want my children to go back to school. Nearly two years now they’ve been on a break. There are a lot of difficulties for them. They sleep more and learn less from online classes. It has become a bad habit for children and different from before,” he said.
Although he said virtual classes provided safety for his children and were easy to control, he said he would rather opt for real classes.
“If they can really go to school, I am so happy because I want my children to have their old habits, having a clear time set aside for learning. But I suggest that when the schools reopen, there must be strict prevention measures,” he said.