Growing despair in Cambodia amid the blockade of COVID | Coronavirus pandemic news


Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Iv Sovann has been locked up with her family in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh since April 5, when the government imposed a series of strict measures to curb a sudden wave of coronavirus cases.

The six-year-old family, 36, has no income.

Her husband, a teacher, lost his job when he closed the school where he worked a year ago.

Sovann has kept the family afloat by working as an account assistant for a local transport company.

“We are not rich. We live hand to hand. If we were as rich as others, it would be good if we were in quarantine for a year, ”he said.

Desperate to eat, this week she was among a group of people from Stueng Meanchey’s Phnom Penh district taking things into their own hands.

“We saw that some people were receiving food like rice noodles and canned fish, and we didn’t get anything. So we went out to ask for food, ”he said.

People carry sacks of rice and other food supplies donated by the local government inside a red zone with strict closure measures in Phnom Penh [Cindy Liu/Reuters]

His protest assured Iv Sovann a 25kg (55lb) bag of rice from the local authority, but others were not so lucky.

“There are still many more families,” he said. “I don’t know why some get donations and why others don’t.”

“They make the news”

Cambodia faces its worst outbreak of COVID-19 since the pandemic began last year and has imposed strict closures, backed by punitive fines and prison sentences, in Phnom Penh and several areas for trying to curb the spread of the virus. .

The country has reported more than 13,000 cases and more than 90 deaths in less than three months.

Authorities have designated neighborhoods with high rates of coronavirus cases as “red zones.”

Within these districts, where approximately 300,000 people live, villagers cannot leave their homes except in case of medical emergencies.

The government has pledged to supply food to the areas and has prevented aid groups from entering the red areas to offer relief, but it appears its efforts have fallen short and left thousands desperate.

Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democracy Association of Informal Economy (IDEA), says he receives hundreds of messages from its members every day asking for help. He estimates that some 5,000 of the organization’s 14,000 members across the country do not have enough to eat, especially those in the “red zones.”

“[We] they lack food, ”he told Al Jazeera.

“We call on the government to help [food] without discrimination “.

On Friday, Amnesty International called on the government to allow civil society to provide assistance to those in food shortages and warned that Cambodia was facing a crisis as a result of government policies in response to rising food shortages. infections, all linked to the B.1.1.7 variant.

“The outrageous manipulation of this blockade of COVID-19 by the Cambodian government is causing unexplained suffering and human rights violations across the country,” Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific regional director, said in a statement.

“Right now, residents of ‘red zones’ and others in Cambodia are starving because of fundamentally unreasonable policies.”

Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, reacted angrily to Amnesty’s criticism.

Amnesty “does not know Cambodia,” he said, and called those who told Al Jazeera they had no “lying” food.

“We help them; we study what areas they are in and what situation they are in, ”he said.

“It simply came to our notice then [them]. They just make the news. That’s not true. “

More questioned, he doubled down.

“They’re lying,” he said. “Tell me who has no food. Send me a text message [addresses] of those who have no food. I’ll get food to send them right away. “

Local and international organizations have called on the government to let them into the red zones to help those in need.

“The government must urgently give access to NGOs and United Nations agencies that are equipped to provide critical medical services, food and other essential social services in these areas safely,” said Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho, l Cambodia ‘s largest human rights organization.

A police officer guards the Phnom Penh bridge. The capital is among the areas of Cambodia that have been blocked amid a sudden wave of coronavirus cases [File: Mak Remissa/EPA]

Amnesty echoed the appeal.

“All closed people should have access to food, water, health care and other proper essential items,” Mishra said in the statement.

Cut food

People working in construction, garment factories, land and informal work have been hardest hit by the closure measures, which have forced the closure of all markets in Phnom Penh, where ordinary people buy your food.

Ou Virak, chairman of Future Forum, a think tank dedicated to public policy issues, says the government could alleviate the shortage by making existing COVID-19 supply chains safe, rather than closing them down.

“I think he [government] it should allow you to open up existing markets, but make sure they’re not too close to each other, ”he said.

In doing so, the government would not only help people in need of food, but also farmers struggling to find a market for their produce.

“Closing the market is a very risky measure,” Ou Virak said. “Even if you have money, you can’t buy food.”

Sok Eysan, a spokesman for Cambodia’s ruling People’s Party, rejects criticism that the government has mismanaged the closure, saying the supply is sufficient.

“So far, we have not heard of people who died of starvation or lack of food since the government, the Red Cross and generous people actively helped people everywhere, especially those in the red zones.” he said.

Cambodia intensifies its vaccination program, starting with those over 18, in the country’s “red zones” [Mak Remissa/EPA]

Amid the new wave of cases, the country has intensified its vaccination program and prioritized people living in the red zones. More than 1.3 million people in the country, out of 15 million, have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

‘Zero tolerance’

But it has also relied on more punitive measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

In March, the government passed a new COVID-19 law that imposes a fine of up to $ 5,000 and a prison sentence of up to 20 years for those who break the rules. Cambodia has an average monthly income of about $ 550.

The United Nations has called on the government to revise the law, saying it is “enormously disproportionate.”

According to Licadho, authorities have arrested 258 people under the COVID-19 law. Of these, 83 have been charged, arrested and sent to prison. Last month, a provincial court sentenced four people to one year in prison for dancing and drinking.

“A public health crisis is not the time to send more people to crowded prisons in Cambodia,” Naly Pilorge said.

“The COVID-19 law should be repealed and those arrested and sentenced to draconian prison sentences under the law should be released immediately.

“Authorities should focus on organizing safe vaccinations for at-risk populations, providing a social safety net for people who need it most, and ensuring access to food, medicine and other necessities for the nearly 300,000 people locked up in red areas of the capital. “

People are waiting to be tested inside a red zone with strict blocking measures during the latest outbreak of coronavirus disease in Phnom Penh [File: Cindy Liu/Reuters]

Sok Eysan, however, remains motionless.

According to him, the government will adopt a zero-tolerance approach to people who violate the COVID-19 law as it seeks to curb the spread of the virus.

“Those who violate the principle of this [COVID] the law of any article must be accountable to it before the law, ”he said.

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