By different names….

Today is a public holiday in Cambodia commemorating the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnamese troops to confront the Khmer Rouge and eventually to defeat them. The ruling Cambodia People’s Party hails this day as “Victory Day” but the opposition calls it “Occupation Day” because the Vietnamese, traditional enemies of Cambodia, stayed for ten years until the United Nations brokered their withdrawal and the erection of a new Cambodian government.

Rather sure, aren’t they?

Look at the three headlines above in today’s Khmer Times. The rest of the world is mandating very strict measures to prevent the spread of the omicron variant and even going into lockdown. Cambodia, on the other hand, says “preventive measures are enough,” is “confident” facing the omicron tsunami, and says Covid-19 is “nipped for now.”

That all gives me a really bad feeling. We could be hit super hard while we’re singing Happy Days Are Here Again. I hope I’m wrong.

It’s not exactly democracy….

What do you call it when a ruling prime minister (Hun Sen) nominates his son, Hun Manet, to be his successor? Theoretically this week’s election was only the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) choosing Manet as the candidate for future election but note that the headline above (from the Khmer Times) has already declared him prime minister. And since it is basically a one-party state (there are NO opposition members in the legislature), he is fairly well assured the CPP will make him PM. Actually the election assured that.

What is interesting is that his father, Hun Sen, has said he himself wants to contest the next two elections–which will be in 2023 and 2028! If he does that and serves out his full five-year terms, Hun Manet can’t be elected until 2033, twelve years from now! A one-party system plays by different rules….

Rice Donation

Here are Soknym, the DDP Program Manager, and Fr. Charlie at the Ministry of Social Affairs today where we handed over a ton of rice to the ministry for distribution to people in Covid-19 “red zones” where they are not allowed even to leave their houses to get food. There the government delivers rice to the houses every day or two. That is the rice behind us. I thought a ton of rice would make a bigger pile!

Herd Immunity?

Prime Minister Hun Sen addressing the Global Summit on Covid-19 this week.

In his remarks to the Global Summit on Covid-19 this week, Prime Minister Hun Sen noted that Cambodia has achieved the vaccination of 79.1% of the total population of Cambodia. Around 80% is considered the threshold for herd immunity, but we’re still counting between 600 to 700 new infections per day. That’s a really bad figure for us and makes us wonder if we have herd immunity or not? Or is it just the presence of the Delta variant?

It’s our turn…

Phnom Penh is the most vaccinated capital city in the world. More injections were given here than the official population of the city, and it is estimated that 99% of the population has received their shots. Now, in addition to the people in the rural areas, the government is focusing on teenagers, those between 12 and 17. Here young people are going to a neighborhood health center which happens to be across the street from a large secondary school.

Moving upscale

For all the years since we started having a Sunday mass at St. Joseph Church in Phnom Penh, every time Fr. Bob Wynne and I would leave by the back gate of the compound, we would look into this recycling hub where trash collectors would bring in and sell the recyclable rubbish they found while making their rounds. Their open front and the church gate were opposite each other.

Then after an absence caused by Covid-19, I came back and found a difference. The recycling hub–just an area under a large metal roof–was gone and there was a “For Rent” sign on the gate.

Because we have not been able to have masses at the church because of the prohibition on in-person gatherings, it was a while before I again went back to St. Joseph. When I did, I saw that something was afoot: a new metal roof had been put up.

And then a month later we now have a typical Cambodian drink shop. If you look closely, in the back corner inside the shop there is a wooden structure where the new proprietor lives. Around the house part is plenty of space for parking the family motorcycles inside. And up front there are the drinks and snacks for sale. The open area on the right, behind the umbrella, used to be a wall but that was removed to give more access. We’ll have to see how this new establishment develops.

Little Red Zones

Today I was in the neighborhood of St. Joseph Church and encountered this street blocked off for a mini-lockdown of just one or two blocks. Our daily overall infection numbers for the country have dropped below 600 but there are still pockets of infection even in highly vaccinated Phnom Penh.

An Unstable Situation

Cambodia is in a volatile and unstable situation with COVID-19. A few days ago, the WHO declared that the next two weeks will be critical for the kingdom as daily infection numbers remain high and the Delta variant becomes established. [All photos are from the Khmer Times]

The good news is that Cambodia has received more than 7 million doses of vaccine and 73% of the population has been vaccinated. China, the United States, and the UK are contributing 2 million more doses this week.
More good news is that today vaccinations began for 12 to 17 year old children, and the prime minister announced that a third injection, a booster, will be offered to all who have received the first two doses.
Bad news is that hundreds of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand are daily crossing the border to return to their home provinces because the factories in Thailand have shut down because of the pandemic. The Thai-Cambodian border is now closed but people like these are crossing illegally. The worry is that they are importing the Delta variant spreading through the country.
More bad news is that a new curfew declared in Phnom Penh and other cities is not being strictly observed. 275 persons were detained last night in Phnom Penh during the curfew hours of 9:00 PM to 3:00 AM.