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Borders Tightened Amid Fears of Delta Variant in Migrant Workers

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CAMBODIA: A full-scale tightening of Cambodia’s borders with Thailand is underway to guard against the deadly Delta variant of Covid-19. The Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Hun Manet, has ordered all troops and other officers along the border to strengthen the control of returning migrant workers. Monitoring and quarantine centres are being set up. Rapid tests are also being carried out on troops, medics, vaccination teams and all other officials.

With the 20 February Community Transmission Event still wreaking havoc in Cambodia, an outbreak of the Delta variant would create a nightmare scenario. The Delta, or Indian variant, is by far the worst mutation of the original coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan, China, towards the end of 2019. It is over 50% more transmissible than the Alpha, or UK variant, which is behind Cambodia’s current second wave. Delta is also more likely to lead to hospitalisation and death.

So far, Cambodia has done well to protect itself from the Delta variant. As of Monday, the Health Ministry had detected only 24 cases, all of whom are migrant workers now in quarantine along the border, but the Delta variant is spreading rapidly in Thailand. Health officials there say there are already over 800 cases in Bangkok. It is less prevalent in other provinces, but is still accounting for over 5% of new Covid-19 cases.

Also causing some concern is Cambodia’s reliance on the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines. Both are World Health Organisation approved, but there is little information available about just how effective they are against the Delta variant. Chinese researchers say the vaccines are “somewhat effective” in reducing the risk of severe Covid-19 by Delta. Dr. Zhong Nanshan, who was instrumental in China’s first response to Covid-19 spoke to the Reuters News Agency. He says current studies are only preliminary.

Sinovac spokesperson, Mr. Liu Peicheng also told Reuters that the vaccine was three-times less effective against Delta, but that a third “booster shot” showed a significant improvement. Cambodia is looking at rolling out that booster shot, but only after its adult population has been fully vaccinated with two doses of vaccine.

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