Prime Minister Hun Sen has dismissed rumours of fresh lockdowns in the capital, saying he will not opt for such a response to the Omicron coronavirus variant anywhere in Cambodia despite surging daily Covid-19 case rates. He also called on pharmacies to refrain from price gouging on medication that alleviates the symptoms of the virus.
“I heard people gossiping in some markets saying that Phnom Penh will be under lockdown again. I want to [clarify] now that I decided to lock down Phnom Penh and Takhmao town [in neighbouring Kandal province] last year at a difficult time because back then we lacked vaccines,” he said while presiding over the groundbreaking of the Choeung Ek Wastewater Treatment Facility in the capital’s Meanchey district on February 22.
“Now, we don’t have a need to lock down towns or any specific places. In the past, we close the markets when several stalls owners were infected. Now, we don’t do that anymore. Those who are positive have to get treatment and the market gets disinfected and continues operating as usual.”
The Ministry of Health reported seven Covid-19 deaths in the last three days, after not having reported any in 46 days.
Meanwhile, the recent surge in Omicron cases has led to reports of pharmacies increasing the price of medicine used to treat symptoms of the disease. Prime Minister Hun Sen warned them to refrain from price gouging and urged health authorities to ensure that no counterfeit medicines are on sale.
“Now we see people line up to buy the medicine as they can afford it. But the cost of medicine must not be increased as [pharmacies like].
“Health officials have to check whether those medicines are real or counterfeit, because there are a lot of counterfeited medicines. Even gel sanitisers are fake too, we have confiscated a lot of fake alcohol,” he said.
Hun Sen also called on people not to overlook the virulence of Omicron and let their guard down on practicing preventative measures.
“Don’t look down [on Omicron] and say it is not leading to death. It is true that the Alpha and Delta [variants] have vanished in Cambodia with only Omicron circulating, but if we have weaknesses [in our defence], it will lead to problems.
“I urge our people to continue to maintain adherence to the three dos and three don’ts,” he said, referring to the government-instituted preventive measure.
The premier highlighted the fact that several countries such as the UK had already lifted restrictions and allowed those infected to travel freely, and stressed that Cambodia will not follow in these footsteps, even with a high vaccination rate, as it was not a foolproof solution.
“Don’t be [arrogant about] having received two doses, three doses, and fourth dose of vaccine and claim that you won’t catch the virus. You will have it [even if] you have been vaccinated,” he warned.
Hun Sen also reiterated his call for parents to bring their children aged 3 to 4 to get vaccinated from February 23 onwards. He noted that five of his more than 20 grandchildren had contracted the virus.
“Omicron [has started] to attack children under 5. Among those who have tested positive, more than 20 per cent are children aged under 5, which is a concern. Parents have to be mindful for their children. We have to continue to fight against this contagious disease,” he said.
Responding to reports about high demand throughout the capital for antiviral medication to treat Covid-19, the health ministry on February 21 issued a press statement saying that it had noted many types of molnupiravir medicine being sold. It said those medicines have not been registered or authorised by the ministry.
The press statement listed the molnupiravir medicines which are not authorised as Meripir 400mg, Meripir 200mg, Moluzen 800, Molaz, Molenzavir 200, Moluzir-US, Mpiravir 200mg, Molnupiravir Tablets 200mg and Molunheet.
Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine warned the public not to use such medicine that had no visa or registration number, even if they were called molnupiravir.
“We cannot ensure the effectiveness, quality and safety of these medicines. They can be fake medicine which can impact your health or cause danger to the life of users,” she said.
The only molnupiravir medication that has been authorised for use in Cambodia is sold under the brand name Molnatris.
Vandine also called on pharmaceutical importers to refrain from price gouging and to keep medicine at an affordable price. She also urged the public not to stockpile medicine.
“If you are not sick, there is no need to stock up on medicine. What you need to do is to protect your health [and avoid infection],” she said.
She added that those who were not able to buy medicine or otherwise get treatment when they test positive can seek assistance from nearby medical officials and obtain medicine free of charge.