Cambodia Tuesday announced the country’s highest daily coronavirus death toll to date, while an international human rights group called on Phnom Penh to protect the country’s vulnerable poor from the harsh economic fallout from the pandemic.
The Ministry of Health reported that the virus claimed 12 lives Tuesday bringing the total to 278.
Among the 12 dead were two prisoners, adding fuel to the concern that Cambodia’s prison population are particularly at risk due to overcrowding. Prisons in the capital Phnom Penh, and in the provinces of Kandal, Kampong Speu, Banteay Meanchy, Svay Rieng and Sihanoukville have reported outbreaks of the deadly virus.
RFA attempted to contact Prison General Department Spokesman Nuth Savana to comment on the situation, but he could not be reached.
Vey Samnang, the governor of Kampong Speu province in the southwest, told RFA that the prison there is managing the outbreak. He said about 100 prisoners out of 1,802 in Kampong Speu have been infected since the beginning of the pandemic but there are no recent infections.
“As soon as we learned about the outbreak, we separated the prisoners and treated them,” he said.
Local rights group LICADHO urged authorities to resolve the overcrowding issue to prevent further outbreaks, and called for transparency in their reporting about the disease.
“If they are careless, there will be a serious outbreak. They need to come to the NGOs for help, so we need information,” said Nuth Bopinaroth, a provincial coordinator for LICADHO.
“If the prisons suspect they have an outbreak, they can inform the NGOs and we can assist them and pass information along to prisoners’ family members,” he said.
Strict lockdowns are causing hunger and homelessness among the low income population, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statements Tuesday that called on the government to boost the social safety net.
“Millions of Cambodians are going hungry and fear losing their homes during the pandemic because there is no government social protection system,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at the New York-based HRW.
“Sporadic one-off cash transfers won’t address basic needs,” he said, referring to a government program that sent out cash to low-income households and others affected by lockdowns, as well as families who lost a member to the disease.
“The Cambodian government should provide timely social protection to everyone in need under a social protection system that protects rights and contributes to an equitable recovery,” added Adams. He said that the program should be overseen by the U.N. team in-country and other partners.
HRW cited recent UN studies showing Cambodia’s poverty rate nearly doubled during the pandemic to 17.6 percent of the nation of 16.5 million. Another 27 percent of the population were near poor and at risk of falling into poverty due to economic shocks caused by the pandemic.
Through Tuesday, Cambodia had confirmed 35,511 COVID-19 cases.
COVID kills three in Vietnam
In neighboring Vietnam, authorities confirmed three COVID-19-related deaths Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 55 since the beginning of the pandemic in January 2020, and 20 since the most recent outbreak that started in late April.
Vietnam had been among the most successful countries in tackling COVID-19, reporting no deaths among its 95 million people through late July 2020—a record that was attributed to effective contact tracing, strict quarantines, and early testing.
But since then, the country has sustained several major outbreaks, leading to more than 9,000 confirmed cases.
Among the three dead were a 53-year-old who died on June 4, a 51-year-old with a history of toxic hepatitis and cirrhosis, and an 88-year-old with had high blood pressure, diabetes and heart failure, both of whom died on Monday.
Ho Chi Minh City, in the country’s south, announced an additional death on Tuesday, a 57-year-old who died in transit from one of the city’s hospitals to another, but the death has yet to be confirmed by the Ministry of Health.
The city said the woman had been sick for a week but came into the hospital on Monday only after suffering respiratory failure, pneumonia and multi-organ failure.
Her husband who accompanied her also tested positive for COVID-19.
If confirmed, the woman’s passing would be the city’s second COVID-19 related death since the beginning of the pandemic.
Vietnam has a goal of inoculating 70 percent of its population of 96 million by the end of 2021 and the government announced Monday that it had raised 6 trillion dong (U.S. $261 million) for the country’s vaccine fund.
According to the Ministry of Finance, the Fund needs about 25 trillion dong ($1.08 billion) to pay for the 150 million doses it needs.
Of Vietnam’s confirmed 9,158 COVID-19 cases, 6,003 have occurred since the April 27 outbreak.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer and Vietnamese Services. Translated by Samean Yun and Anny Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.