Scholars and rights activists in Cambodia are urging Cambodia to more carefully consider Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision not to cancel flights from China for economic reasons amid the novel coronavirus scare.
On Monday, Cambodia became the latest country to confirm a case of coronavirus, announcing that a Chinese national in the coastal city of Sihanoukville had been infected in the outbreak that as of Friday afternoon has sickened nearly 10,000 people worldwide and killed at least 213, all in China.
Hun Sen dismissed fears of an epidemic in Cambodia Thursday, warning that a ban on flights from China would “kill” the country’s economy and “destroy ties with China.”
He also said that there were no plans to evacuate Cambodians from China.
But the head of Cambodia’s Independent Teachers’ Association told RFA’s Khmer Service Friday that the Prime Minister’s comments were inconsistent with the current situation and global concerns over the spread of the deadly virus.
Rong Chhun said that Hun Sen should be more concerned with the health and safety of the people.
“I think that the temporary flight closure will not affect diplomatic relations with China and the economy will not die,” he said.
“It is better to not let the virus spread to Cambodia,” he added.
He also urged the Cambodian government to find a way to bring home Cambodian students, like other countries are evacuating their nationals from China.
“We have seen that the government lacks the resources and ability to evacuate Cambodian students from China,” he said.
Cambodia’s healthcare system is woefully inadequate to cope with a potential outbreak, and it has not made efforts to prepare for one, he added.
“If we look at the healthcare system in Cambodia, it is not good for protecting people from infections,” he said.
“People have lost confidence [in Cambodian healthcare] as many doctors are incompetent,” he said, adding that many Cambodians often travel to neighboring countries for medical treatment.
Cambodia’s Health ministry spokesman Ly Sovan told RFA there would be no reconsideration of flight cancellations or evacuations.
“We are ready to prepare prevention at any time,” he said.
“We are working to transparently follow WHO warnings.” he said.
“We have always shared information immediately to our people and to the World Health Organization and as well as other countries,” he added.
The spokesman said that Cambodia has not found any cases of the virus within its borders besides one 60-year-old Chinese man who has been hospitalized in Preah Sihanouk province and is in stable condition.
Meanwhile in Vietnam, authorities are cracking down on Facebook users who spread information about nCoV.
At least six Facebookers were reprimanded for posting what the authorities allege is “fake news” about the virus, fining them between 10 million and 15 million dong (U.S. $433-$650).
Lawyer Dang Dinh Manh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the government only thinks of the political aspects of problems while ignoring issues that actually affect the people.
Dang said authorities should launch educational campaigns to prevent the virus’ spread in Vietnam and enact policies that ensure public safety and health, instead of focusing on punishing and controlling people who express their legitimate concerns and fears about the virus online.
Authorities in Quang Ninh and Can Tho provinces, meanwhile, announced they were suspending entry to Chinese tourists Friday, bringing the total number of province-level jurisdictions that have enacted such a ban to five.
Khanh Hoa and Lao Cai provinces and the province-level city Da Nang did so earlier in the week.
In addition, the city of Hai Phong Friday affirmed that two people visiting from Ho Chi Minh City to were possibly infected with nCoV. Both are under quarantine in Hai Phong’s Vietnam-Czech Friendship Hospital.
Hotel owners and tourism officials in Laos are reporting that tourism from China is way down.
Hotels in Bokeo province lie empty and casinos in the Golden Triangle SEZ are on lockdown.
Few Chinese have managed to make their way to major tourist centers like Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane, as flights to and from the Middle Kingdom have been suspended.
“So yeah, the coronavirus outbreak is totally impacting us. Many Chinese tourists cancelled their stays,” an owner of a hotel in the tourist town of Vang Vieng told RFA’s Lao Service.
Similarly, an official of the Luang Prabang Tourism Department told RFA, “Right now, the Chinese are not coming [here], only Westerners are.”
A receptionist at a hotel in Oudomxay Province reported similar conditions there.
An official of Cambodia’s Tourism Department told RFA, “Of course numbers are down, but we don’t have official statistics yet for this month.”
As a way to prevent a potential epidemic from spreading among students, schools in Laos that remain open are taking preventative measures, such as distributing masks and hand sanitizer and monitoring student health.
One school in Savannakhet province regularly takes the temperature of some 3,000 students before they enter their classrooms in the morning, and has been distributing masks and hand sanitizer for their use.
“We take their temperature and look for fever and other symptoms,” said a member of the administration of a school in Savannakhet province.
“Furthermore, they must wash their hands with soap in the school complex and with hand sanitizer before entering their classroom.”
Additionally students in the school must produce a medical certificate attesting to their health status from a doctor in the event that they miss school for several consecutive days or go on trips abroad, the official said.
“I’m monitoring my students and if I see one that is sick or otherwise not feeling well, I will send them home immediately,” said a teacher at another school in Vientiane.
Authorities in Myanmar are monitoring potentially infected Burmese after a Chinese citizen was found sick at Yangon International Airport and quarantined.
“That’s right. A suspected patient was identified. But that doesn’t mean he’s infected [with coronavirus]. Not all suspected patients are found to be positive cases,” Khin Khin Gyi of Myanmar’s Department of Public Health told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“After arriving from China, we found him suffering with respiratory issues. So, we sent him to the hospital,” Khin Khin Gyi said.
Myanmar’s Health ministry said the patient’s biological samples would be sent to a lab in neighboring Thailand to determine if he contracted nCoV.
The ministry said two Myanmar nationals who were also on the plane are being monitored at the same hospital despite not showing any symptoms.
Meanwhile, during a press conference in Naypyidaw, the director general of Myanmar’s Presidential Office told reporters that authorities are taking preventive measures to prevent an outbreak in the country.
“China first confirmed the [existence of] the virus Jan. 7 and since then our health ministry began screening processes at airports and border checkpoints including Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw,” said Zaw Htay.
He also added that an evacuation plan for more than 60 Myanmar students in Wuhan will begin on Feb. 2. They will be flown to Myanmar on a chartered plane and will be monitored at a hospital in Mandalay for two weeks.
Residents, however, are very concerned.
“It’s spreading to neighboring countries. There are people going in and out of Myanmar so we’re worried,” Min Min Paing, a resident of Yangon, told RFA.
“We’re particularly worried because there’s not much information about prevention or treatment.”
Another Yangon resident, Myo Set Aung, said, “I’m pretty worried because it can’t be cured. Only those who can afford it will be able to seek treatment once it becomes available.”
“I think it’s better to prevent it before it happens,” said Myo Set Aung.
Zaw Min Oo of Lashio said, “Lashio has a lot of Chinese. To make matters worse, a lot of Burmese go to China as migrant workers.”
“By the time coronavirus outbreak occurred in China, the weather here was very cold. Viruses spread faster when there’s not much sunlight,” Zaw Min Oo added.
According to a 2015 BBC future report, a lack of sunlight might lead to Vitamin D deficiency in the human body, leaving the immune system underpowered.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer, Vietnamese and Lao Services and Kyaw Lwin Oo and Nay Myo Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Pheap Aun, Huy Le, Nandar Chann, and Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.