Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen said Friday that he plans to “negotiate with China” so that his government can vaccinate children against COVID-19 and reopen schools, but opposition chief Sam Rainsy called the country’s coronavirus mitigation efforts a failure amid a rising death toll.
Hun Sen said the government will need four million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine to bolster existing supplies and inoculate around 12 million children aged 12 to 17 years old in the capital Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kandal and Sihanoukville as quickly as possible so that life can return to normal in Cambodia.
“We need to negotiate with China to get vaccines for our kids,” he said. “We need herd immunity to reopen society and our schools.”
Hun Sen urged parents to send their children for vaccinations as soon as they become available.
Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan responded Friday by saying that he has already prepared a list of patients, doctors, and locations for administering the vaccines.
Cambodia—a country of 16.5 million people—has already vaccinated 5.4 million of its citizens, or around 54 percent of the eligible population, against COVID-19. But even with such a high rate of inoculation, an increasing number of people are dying from the disease caused by the coronavirus amid a new outbreak in the Southeast Asian nation and its neighbors Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
On Friday, Cambodia’s Ministry of Health announced 27 deaths from COVID-19 and around 900 new infections, bringing the country’s totals to 1,052 deaths and 65,500 infections since the start of the pandemic early last year.
One of China’s staunchest allies in the region, Cambodia has also ignored concerns over the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine and broken ranks with its neighbors in proclaiming the drug its best shot at controlling the spread of the virus.
On Thursday, Malaysia said it will stop using the Sinovac vaccine without specifying why, days after Thailand and Indonesia announced that many of their citizens would get a non-Sinovac booster jab if they had received the Chinese shot.
Thailand and Indonesia announced their policies on a booster shot amid growing concerns about the effectiveness of the Chinese-made vaccine, and after some people in those countries died of the coronavirus despite being inoculated with two shots of Sinovac.
Response to virus slammed
In a post to his Facebook page Friday, acting president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Sam Rainsy slammed Hun Sen’s approach to fighting the virus, calling it a failure in comparison to that of other regional countries.
He noted that neighboring Vietnam has only recorded 207 deaths and around 42,300 infections, despite having a population nearly six times as large.
Sam Rainsy, who is currently living in self-imposed exile in Paris to avoid a string of what he believes are politically motivated charges and convictions, also questioned why Hun Sen had chosen to obtain Sinovac doses for Cambodians, while vaccinations from Western nations are both cheaper and more effective.
Responding to Sam Rainsy’s comments, ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Ey San told RFA’s Khmer Service that the government’s inter-ministerial committee will be responsible for handling the purchase of the Chinese vaccines and not Hun Sen, adding that he was unsure of the cost of a Sinovac dose.
The Ministry of Finance has said that, to date, Cambodia’s government has spent about U.S. $1 billion on efforts to curb COVID-19.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.