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Cambodia Announces Nationwide School Closures as COVID Response Ramps Up

Students line up to get their body temperature checked and hands sanitized at French Institute of Cambodia in Phnom Penh before the institute announces on its Facebook page that it would close temporarily starting from 8pm, Monday, March 16th, 2020. (Nem Sopheakpanha/VOA Khmer)

The Education Ministry announced on Monday the closure of all public and private educational institutions across the country, as the Cambodian government ramped up its response to the global pandemic, almost two months after the first reported case in the country.

A similar announcement on Saturday had called for the closure of public and private schools only in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap provinces. At the time, the government said it had found the virus in “foreign nationals” and based on preventive measures outlined, the Education Ministry was closing down public and private schools in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

However, on Monday, a ministerial directive ordered all educational institutions, from kindergarten to universities, both public and private, to start their summer vacations early until further notice from the government. It claimed that positive cases among Cambodians, reported late Sunday, were the reason for the nationwide school closures.

Speaking on Saturday, Education Ministry spokesperson Dy Khamboly had claimed the situation was different in Preah Sihanouk and Battambang provinces, both populated provinces as well, and that the government had restricted the measure to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

“So, it is a preventive measure to prevent the spread of the COVID19 disease,” said Dy Khamboly.

He did not provide additional comment on Monday for the escalation in the school closures.

On Friday, health officials confirmed that two foreigners – a Belgian and Canadian national – had tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Phnom Penh, with Siem Reap seeing one case in early March, one of them a Cambodian national.

In Saturday’s announcement, the Education Ministry said schools could use the average of graded work from December to March, as the basis for the grading students for this semester.

The both ministerial directives also asked that children be kept away from high-risk places, such as gymnasiums, swimming pools and public parks.

Svay Sareth, a businessman in Siem Reap and parent of two children at a private school, said on Saturday that despite the inconvenience, he was happy to comply for the safety his children.

"Also, when it is closed, we are not worried because when they go to school and we will worry about that. We are not peaceful,” he said.

Schools in Siem Reap were initially closed nearly two weeks ago when it was announced a Cambodian national had tested positive for COVID-19, after coming into contact with his Japanese employer, who also texted positive in Japan, immediately after he left the temple town earlier this month.

A Chinese national was the first reported COVID-19 case in Cambodia, testing positive for the respiratory disease on January 27 in the coastal town of Sihanoukville.