Cambodians Protest Food Shortages in Phnom Penh, as COVID Numbers Climb

2021-04-30
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Cambodians Protest Food Shortages in Phnom Penh, as COVID Numbers Climb Residents of Phnom Penh's Stung Meanchey district make an urgent appeal for government food aid, April 30, 2021.
RFA

More than a hundred residents of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh protested over severe shortages of food in the city on Friday amid rapidly climbing numbers of COVID-19 infections and two more deaths from the disease, Cambodian sources said.

Nearly 800 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Cambodia on Friday alone, with 13,402 people now reported to have become infected since the pandemic began to spread, according to official figures.

For the second day in a row, residents of so-called red zones—city areas locked down due to rising rates of infection in a surge beginning in March—called in public for the government to send help, saying they are running out of food and face starvation.

“We are running out of food, and we don’t know where to go,” Eam Rathavy—a 56-year-old resident of Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district—told RFA on April 30, adding she is out of work and that her family of seven has no rice left to eat.

“I am asking [the government] for help so we can get enough food,” she said.

Another protester, Muong Samphos, said that if the government-ordered lockdown of her area continues, her family of eight will likely die of starvation before dying of disease. “If we don’t have anything to eat, we will die of hunger before COVID-19 kills us,” she said.

A resident who joined in Thursday’s protest meanwhile said that she had received a small amount of aid today that will not last through the week.

“I protested for help and they sent some aid, but it is not nearly enough. We don’t have a job, and the government won’t let me go out. They must send more help,” she said.

Another villager who protested on Thursday said she had been given 25 kilograms of rice, some canned food, and some instant noodles, “But I have five boys, and they eat a lot—six or seven cans of food every day.”

“Twenty-five kilograms will be finished within a week."

“If I can get a job, we can survive, but if not I will continue to ask for food," she said.

Speaking to RFA on April 30, Sok Ey San—spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party—said that authorities are working hard now to provide food for those in need.

“There are hundreds of thousands of these people, though, and we can’t resolve this promptly.”

Online pleas for help

In a statement Friday, rights group Amnesty International said it had reviewed Facebook postings and online videos showing residents of the red-zone areas under lockdown making desperate pleas for help.

“People in red zones have been prohibited from leaving their homes even to buy food and other basic necessities. Markets in red zones have been shuttered and mobile food vendors barred, leaving many at-risk residents to go hungry,” Amnesty said.

In some cases, NGOs have even been blocked from distributing food in red-zone areas, the rights group said.

“The Cambodian government’s outrageous mishandling of this COVID-19 lockdown is causing untold suffering and sweeping human rights violations across the country,” said Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director.

“The Cambodian government can, and must, take decisive steps to mitigate this disaster,” Mishra said.

Responding to Amnesty’s statement, Kata Orn—spokesman for the official Cambodian Human Rights Committee—told RFA that no one in Cambodia has died of starvation yet, adding that the government has not blocked NGOs from delivering aid to the people.

“Cambodia welcomes humanitarian aid from NGOs, countries, and other donors, and no one has died of starvation in the red zones yet,” he said.

“Authorities are working around the clock to provide the people with aid,” he said.

Laos struggles with new cases

In neighboring Laos, the number of COVID-19 infections continued to climb on Friday, with 85 new cases reported in recent days, bringing the country’s overall case load to 757. The new surge in infections has led authorities to issue a rare cancellation of Labor Day, a holiday regularly celebrated by communist governments in honor of the work force that formally props them up.

Rattanaxay Phetsouvanh, head of the central government’s Infectious Disease Prevention Unit, said in a press conference Friday that 69 of the new cases were identified in Vientiane municipality, the country’s capital, with two new cases found in the larger province of Vientiane.

In Bokeo province, seven new cases were found, with three also found in Savannakhet province, two in Borikhamxay, and one each in the provinces of Oudomxay and Champassak.

“The number of people infected by COVID-19 is increasing,” a COVID-19 special protection unit official in Champassak province told RFA on April 30. “It’s hard to inspect them all when they move around from one village to another without letting us know.”

Special protection unit officials in Vientiane are meanwhile urging businesses and the general public to strictly follow government guidelines and protocols aimed at controlling the spread of the disease, reminding residents in locked-down areas to stay in their homes.

Unemployment continues to grow in impoverished Laos because of the pandemic’s spread, sources say.

No deaths have been reported yet in Laos from the disease.

Vietnam traces contacts

Nine new cases of community transmission of COVID-19 have meanwhile been reported in Vietnam in the last two days, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health said.

On April 30, the Ministry sent urgent requests to Ha Nam, Hanoi, Da Nang, and Ho Chi Minh City, asking local authorities to trace contacts connected to an infected person, Patient 2899, returning to Vietnam from Japan.

Patient 2899 returned to Vietnam on April 7 and completed a two-week quarantine on April 22, but two days later exhibited signs of infection—including a fever, cough, and sore throat—and tests confirmed he was now positive for COVID-19.

At least 10 cases of infection with SARS-CoV-2 were then traced to contacts with Patient 2899, eight of which are now confirmed as cases of COVID-19, the Ministry said.

Four Indian nationals infected in India before traveling to Vietnam have also tested positive for COVID-19 and are being treated at the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, Dang Duc Anh—director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology—said in an April 30 statement.

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has now called on the Ministry of Health to step up its search for sources of vaccines, saying that the government must not only combat the pandemic but protect and develop the economy and “successfully organize” elections to Vietnam’s National Assembly and local People’s Councils scheduled for May 23, state media said.

As of April 30, Vietnam has recorded 2,914 cases of COVID-19 infection, of whom 2,516 have recovered and 35 have died.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer, Lao, and Vietnamese Services. Translated by Samean Yun, Sidney Khotpanya, and Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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