There are currently about 15,000 foreigners basically trapped in Cambodia. They were here for vacations and business and other reasons, and while they were here their flights out were canceled as countries closed their borders and stopped flights because of the COVID-19 disease. Now they’re stuck here, away from home. This article today is about a petition to the UK government to help them get out of the Kingdom of Wonder.
The only way to stop the spread of COVID-19 infection is to stop contact among people. It may seem staying at home has no effect but it is the only way to prevent a full epidemic infection wherever you are.
Phnom Penh is slowly shutting down because of the COVID-19 disease, even without a lot of pressure from the government. Schools and museums and churches and beer gardens are officially closed but the hundreds of garment factories and the small shops can still operate. It’s the small mom-and-pop shops, though, that show things slowing down. More and more of them are shuttered every day, many as worried parents take their children to the supposed safety of remote villages in the provinces.
The closings mean loss of jobs and income, and that is starting to affect many people. Levels of fear and anxiety are rising. Fr. Kevin, our resident psychologist, has offered some links to sites that can help people deal with stress. Here is one resource we offered in the newsletter sent out today.
Our DDP office is closed and our education and job training students have been sent home but we have three young men who have multiple disabilities and are with us always because they have no homes to go to. Part of managing COVID-19 is making sure they are taken care of. Today I was at DDP when two houseparents were giving a drink to one of the youth.
This is a picture of me this morning on a way to a meeting of the bishop’s COVID19 committee, set up to advise him on the diocese’s response to the pandemic which is becoming more serious in Cambodia. I have only worn a face mask maybe twice in twenty years in Cambodia, both times when I was on a really dusty road for a long haul on the back of a motorcycle.
One of our former Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Jim McLaughlin, is a retired microbiologist. Several years ago he set up the first diagnostic laboratories in government hospitals here with funding from the US Department of Defense who likes to know what kinds of bad little things are floating around in different countries—viruses and other such which could potentially be weapons. Jim is here regularly and he never wears a mask. He said if a person is sick, THAT sick person should wear a mask. Or if your family is infected, then wear a mask. But to wear them on the street or on planes is rather non productive. The CDC agrees.
COVID19 is now becoming a major problem in Cambodia and with government encouragement it has been identified as a foreigner disease. And in the beginning it was foreigners, tourists and workers, who were first infected. Now it is community spreading and Cambodians are infecting each other but there is still resentment and–now more often–fear of foreigners. Wearing a mask is a psychological thing. People wear them because they feel they don’t have much control over their lives and are mostly at the mercy of diseases like COVID19. And with a weak health system that is basically true. My wearing a mask is not going to help prevent the spread of the virus here but at least it will reassure anxious local people that I am sensitive to the problem and am doing my share to combat the infection and not pass it on to them.
Cambodia is 94% Buddhist but there is an element of Chinese influence visible throughout society. Here on a typical Khmer street is a small Chinese temple which doesn’t exactly blend in architecturally but is an accepted part of the neighborhood.
Since there’s confusion in the reporting about the present epidemic:
• CORONAVIRUS is a type of virus
• SARS-CoV-2 is the exact virus going around
• COVID-19 is the disease it causes, and
• “WUHAN VIRUS” is racist.
This is an autorickshaw (as they are called in India, their country of origin) that has become the main mode of public transportation in Phnom Penh now. I used one to go to St. Joseph Church this morning and violated my own rule: Never put my phone down on the seat. I did just that and in the hassle of getting out and collecting my stuff and paying the driver, I walked off and left the phone. The beauty of this online hailing system is that the autoricks are called from a phone, and so the passenger’s phone number, time of pick-up, and destination are all recorded. When I got home I called the company, named Grab, and a very helpful young woman called the driver for me and he had the phone. She then gave me his number and I had our guard call him to explain in Khmer (better than I could!) how to get to the Maryknoll office. Within an hour the man above appeared and I was reunited with my phone, and he went away happy with the remuneration I gave him.