Nations go through periods of easy and hard times. A systemic crisis of massive magnitude and scale of the Covid-19 pandemic tests national strength, cohesion, and resilience. Some nations have become polarised in the face of the crisis while some have spiralled into deep conflicts and failed states. A national crisis can either divide or unify a country. It can be a process for transformative and robust nation-building. What a country is investing today in its struggle against the pandemic crisis defines the country’s future national health and trajectories.
Like many countries, Covid-19 is a national security threat for Cambodia. It disrupts society, damages the economy, and threatens public health.
As of May 8, Cambodia had recorded a total of Covid-19 infected cases are 18,717, with 7,340 recoveries and 114 deaths. Despite the devastating impacts of the pandemic, Cambodians as a nation have come together performing their roles, taking responsibility, and making contributions in ideas, skills and kind and cash to fight Covid-19 and rebuild the country. The pandemic crisis strengthens national solidarity and civic participation.
Due to space limitations, this article highlights the roles, commitments, and efforts of the Cambodian government in mobilising resources and investing in national campaigns to save lives and steer the country out of the crisis.
For a little over a year from when the first Covid-19 case was detected in the country on January 27, 2020, to the time before the February 20 community outbreak, Cambodia was able to control the pandemic, with very low daily detection of new cases or zero new cases on certain days. As of February 18, 2021, the country’s total infected cases were 484, with 470 recoveries and zero death. The country’s ability to contain the pandemic was due to the government’s leadership, commitment, and decisive actions with the cooperation of the mass population and other domestic and international stakeholders.
The government also rolled out programmes, Emergency Cash Transfer and Cash for Work to minimise the negative impacts of Covid-19 on the economy and poor and vulnerable households. The government
allocated $25 million per month in 2020 to the Emergency Cash Transfer Programme, which distributed money to poor and vulnerable families through IDPoor, an existing programme identifying and categorising poor Cambodian households for government interventions. Cambodia’s relative success in controlling and minimising the negative impacts of the pandemic was applauded by the WHO representative to Cambodia, and the country was ranked number 3 out of the 166 countries and number 1 in Asia for its handling of Covid-19 in an international ranking report released in November 2020.
The February 20 community outbreak, or the so-called ‘February 20 event’, is a serious threat to public health because the number of infected cases has skyrocketed, overwhelming hospitals and medical resources. Cambodia reported the first Covid-19 death on March 11, and the daily infected cases have been three digits since late March, prompting the government to enforce a curfew and a three-weeklong lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province before lifting it on May 6.
Despite the seriousness and devastating impacts arising out of the February 20 outbreak, Cambodians have demonstrated national resilience and solidarity, and the government remains committed to safeguarding the nation against this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic crisis. The national and sub-national authorities and different state institutions have been working in tandem to save lives and minimise the negative impacts of the pandemic.
Prime Minister Hun Sen exercises leadership in monitoring the situation and providing direction. Senior government officials held consultative meetings with relevant state agencies until midnight to devise plans and measures for implementation. The police and Military Police have been working around the clock to enforce the curfew and lockdown orders, which are generally peaceful and orderly, thanks also to people’s cooperation. The military has provided its medical, transportation and logistics resources to assist the national campaigns to treat Covid-19 patients and immunise the population.
Cambodia’s medical doctors and personnel have demonstrated impressive courage and professionalism despite being overwhelmed by the rapid surge in infections. When Cambodia reported the first few cases,
there was a widely shared belief that the doctors and nurses would be panicked and run away from their duties if the active cases increased. However, more than one year into the fight against the pandemic and with more than 10,000 Covid-19 patients now receiving medical care and treatment nationwide, Cambodia’s medical personnel have proved this belief wrong.
They remain committed to their duties although some of them have contracted the novel coronavirus in the process of performing their work. Staff at the Institute Pasteur du Cambodge in Phnom Penh work both weekdays and weekends and on some days until dawn in analysing thousands of daily tested samples to ensure timely reports of Covid-19 positive cases.
Cambodia’s medical sector has also received assistance from the Samdech Techo Voluntary Youth Doctors Association (TYDA). TYDA’s participation and spirit of voluntarism have greatly helped boost morale and relieve stress and strain on the public health sector.
The association has participated in preparing 51 hospitals and field hospitals with a total capacity of more than 4,300 beds for Covid-19 patients. Furthermore, TYDA’s members help prepare food for the patients. TYDA is also a major force committing its members to the national Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
Cambodian people have also demonstrated their civic duty and culture of sharing by making cash donations of more than $56.9 million to the government’s fund for vaccine procurement. Their participation through donating this quite big amount of money for the noble course of protecting the nation is an encouraging sign and optimism for the country’s future. Joining with the people, the Queen Mother and the King have graciously donated cash four times with a total amount of $3,700,000.
Peace, political stability, and strong annual economic growth over the last two decades have provided favourable conditions in supporting national resilience and solidarity amid the Covid-19 crisis.
In moving forward, the Cambodian government is accelerating the national campaign for mass inoculation. According to the recently released Strategic Plan for National Vaccination Campaign against Covid-19, the government aims to achieve socio-economic resilience through mass vaccination to create herd immunity in Cambodia by the end of 2021. As of May 8, Cambodia had vaccinated more than 1.7 million people, ranking second only Singapore among ASEAN countries that have implemented quick vaccination campaigns against Covid-19.
According to the Asian Cultural Council’s press release dated April 7 2021, Cambodia also received a good ranking from UNESCO as one of only 17 countries in the world that have given priority to vaccination against Covid-19 for teachers. Cambodia’s vaccination achievements are impressive and have demonstrated the government’s relentless efforts in securing vaccines for the Cambodian population while the world is facing a short supply of vaccines. The bulk of vaccines that Cambodia has secured came from different sources, through the government’s purchase and gracious donations from China and COVAX Facility.
Diplomats, staff of diplomatic missions and their accompanying family members, and members of UN agencies, international organisations, international NGOs, foreign financial institutions, and foreign businessmen have also benefited from the government’s vaccination campaign.
According to the Ministry of Health’s letters dated March 21 and April 5 and 10, a total of 3,133 foreigners and Cambodian nationals and their families of the above institutions had received vaccinations.
Covid-19 is a grave national security threat, but how Cambodians have responded to it is impressive and optimistic for the country’s future. The nation is in solidarity against the pandemic. The Cambodian government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen has exercised inspiring leadership and high responsibility in protecting the nation and enhancing the morale of caring for one another during hard times.
Suos Yara is the director-general of the Asian Cultural Council (ACC)