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“New Normal” Approaching 8 Months After 20 February Transmission Event

Phnom Penh: Wednesday marks exactly eight months since the now-infamous 20 February Community Transmission Event. It was in the early hours of that day that four Chinese women bribed their way out of quarantine at Sokha Hotel. Two of them were Covid-19 positive. One of them had the Alpha variant. Their night on the town unleashed a wave of infection and death that has cost Cambodia dearly, but eight months on, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.

It was not the first outbreak Cambodia had. It was thought, like the previous two, that it would be quickly contained, but it wasn’t. On 19 February, the day before that reckless night on the town, Cambodia had barely 500 cases and zero deaths. Fast-forward eight months and the kingdom has lost 2,693 people to Covid-19. 117,201 people have been infected. School closures, lockdowns, curfews and other administrative measures followed, but Cambodia’s second wave came just as it started rolling out vaccines and eight months later, the Royal Government’s efforts have turned the tide.

Schools have reopened, along with many other businesses and quarantine measures for international arrivals have been eased. Given recent statements by Prime Minister Hun Sen, it would seem the country is only weeks away from a full reopening – both of its economy and its borders.

Cambodia has been hailed by international organisations and governments around the world for its rapid vaccination rollout – one of the fastest in the world and second only to Singapore in Southeast Asia. As the kingdom inched closer to herd immunity, along came Pchum Ben and the ultimate test. The Prime Minister said the 10-15 days immediately following the holiday would be key in whether or not the country could reopen. On Tuesday of this week he told an anxious nation that it had passed the test and that the kingdom was on track to start a “new normal”.

Just where Cambodia would have been had those four Chinese nationals not bribed their way out of quarantine, no-one will ever know, but eight months later, the collective efforts of a nation have turned the tide on the country’s second wave and set the stage for its long-awaited post-pandemic recovery.

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