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The Health Ministry hinted at the possibility of another lockdown and the WHO warned that stronger monitoring was needed to check if the Delta variant is spreading among the community in Cambodia
PHNOM PENH--Cambodia hit a grim new milestone on June 30 with 1,130 new COVID-19 cases reported by the Ministry of Health—the largest single-day increase since the pandemic began some 18 months ago.
June 30 also represented the highest number of COVID-19 deaths recorded in Cambodia in a single day as 27 more people lost their lives to the virus. The death toll has now reached 602.
While 670 people reportedly recovered from COVID-19, the total number of recorded cases crossed the 50,000 threshold, climbing to 50,385, according to the Health Ministry.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, Or Vandine said the country has reached “a red line” which requires all stakeholders, especially the public, to take a more active role in preventing the spread of COVID-19. If the community outbreak continues at this pace, she warned, Cambodia will see more deaths and the health systems will be overwhelmed.
“If the outbreak in our community continues on this large scale, public health facilities, hospitals will be stretched overcapacity, because there are a lot [of patients] and there is no place for treating them,” she said.
She warned that the social and economic impacts would need to be considered, but hinted that another lockdown may be needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This comes after Cambodia’s first lockdown earlier this year resulted in mass unemployment, financial desperation and protests over food shortages.
The fragility of Cambodia’s social infrastructure and the proximity to poverty that is a lived experience for many in Phnom Penh became painfully apparent during the course of the lockdown, the fallout of which led Prime Minister Hun Sen to end restrictions abruptly. Since then cases have steadily climbed back up to pre-lockdown figures and have now exceeded them.
Much of the world is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, despite the rollout of vaccines, with many new cases elsewhere being linked to the Delta variant, which experts have warned is as much as 60 percent more transmissible and seemingly more vaccine-resistant than previous variants.
Australian health authorities recently announced that the Delta variant can be transmitted by “fleeting encounters” and can spread within as little as 5-10 seconds of close contact with someone who has contracted the Delta variant. Previous variants were believed to spread within 15 minutes of close contact.
However, the Delta variant’s presence in Cambodia appears limited. The Ministry of Health yesterday stated that there were just 22 cases of the Delta variant recorded in Cambodia, whereas GISAID—whose data comes directly from the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia—reported 25 cases to date. Both sources suggested that all cases of the Delta variant were imported, which was confirmed by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) June 21 situation report—no new information has yet been made public by the WHO.
“The figures are dynamic and will be updated from time to time,” said Dr. Li Ailan, the WHO’s representative in Cambodia.
“To me, the most important fact is that the Delta variant has come to Cambodia and we need to be extremely careful and vigilant,” she warned, adding that current health and social measures are capable of containing the spread of the Delta variant, but need to be implemented faster and more effectively.
“It is now important to closely monitor if the Delta variant is circulating in the community—beyond border measures—as of today [June 30], it appears that all the cases due to the Delta variant are the imported cases,” Ailan said.
“But we need to monitor in the community—it could spread very fast once the virus would be circulating in the local community, especially any 3C setting,” she concluded, referencing the close contact, closed space and crowded settings that Cambodians are warned against visiting.
Earlier this week on June 28, Health Minister Mam Bunheng also warned Cambodia against complacency, noting that the prospect of the Delta variant spreading on a community transmission level would be disastrous.