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WHO Regional Director Impressed With Cambodia's COVID-19 Response

INTERNATIONAL: The WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific has conducted a virtual press conference on Friday morning. The conference was focused on the updates on COVID-19, particularly the new Omicron variant, which the WHO has classified as a variant of concern. The Regional Director, Dr. Takeshi Kasai, was joined by his fellow WHO colleagues who took the time to answer some questions regarding the Omicron variant and what measures and practices are best recommended for countries to follow.

In his opening remarks at the press conference, WHO Wester Pacific Regional Director Dr. Takeshi Kasai spoke of the progress the world and the Western Pacific Region has made in the fight against COVID-19, including the reduction of severe illnesses and deaths as a result of widespread vaccinations.

While Dr. Kasai said that most parts of the Western Pacific are trending in the right direction, he stressed that we must not become complacent, as global cases have been seeing a consecutive rise in the past 7 weeks. Especially with the identification of the new Omicron variant and the upcoming holiday season, he said that people should not be surprised to see more surges in COVID-19 cases in the near future, and should most of all remain vigilant.

Regional Emergencies Director Dr. Babatunde Olowukure also outlined some of the latest information the WHO has regarding the Omicron variant, which include an increased transmissibility, suggested by the spread of the variant in South Africa and the growing spread across the world, as well as preliminary evidence which points to the possibility of reinfection. He further stated that there is no new information yet regarding disease severity and vaccine performance, hence the situation must continue to be closely monitored.

Dr. Kasai also answered a question from EAC News regarding the reopening of Cambodia and what advice the WHO has in relation to the new Omicron variant.

He says, “Cambodia is the country that has impressed me repeatedly. For example, they know how to effectively use the limited vaccine, and prioritize the target groups, and as a result, I received information [regarding vaccinations] that healthcare workers are 100% [vaccinated], older people, more than 90%, and after that, general public over the age of 18 is already reaching close to 96%, and [the country is] trying to continue to expand the vaccine [program].”

Dr. Kasai added that the information he has received about the strategies Cambodia is using to save lives, protect health and ensure a safe and sustainable reopening are in line with WHO discussions with member states, hence, he looks forward to seeing the implementation results.

He continued on to say that he understands that people are concerned about the Omicron variant, and that any temporary border measures being taken will only reduce the risk of importation but will not be able to completely stop the virus from entering the country. He emphasized that countries should not just rely on border controls and become complacent, and everyone must continue individual practices to protect themselves, their families and their community.

He added that governments must also continue to request the business sector to actively assess the situation of risk and introduce mitigation measures accordingly, and the same applies for schools, where we must move away from a zero-risk approach and full school closures which negatively impact youth, and instead move towards a risk-based approach that is more adaptive to the immediate context.

Dr. Kasai praised Cambodia for being a country that has experienced the delta variant and successfully repressed the spread of cases. In relation to Omicron, he recommends that Cambodia and other countries in the region continue to use those experiences and lessons learned to be ready for any future surges. He stressed that we must continue to strive for a society that can cope with the continuous surge and repeated emergence of new variants.

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