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Cambodia Reopens Schools and Museums as Others Lock Down

Students from the Sovannaphumi school wearing face masks maintain social distancing as Cambodia reopen schools and museums after months of shutdown due to surging of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 4, 2021. (REUTERS)

Cambodia has started reopening schools and museums as it relaxes a six-week lockdown following a coronavirus outbreak late last year, marking a contrast with some neighboring countries that are facing new restrictions due to rising COVID-19 cases.

The Southeast Asian country of just over 16 million people, one of the least impacted by the novel coronavirus with just 382 infections and no deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, saw a rare cluster of cases in November.

On Monday, students wearing masks lined up for temperature checks and hand washing before being allowed to enter the Sovannaphumi primary school in the capital Phnom Penh.

While private schools have started reopening this week, students at public schools are due to return next week.

At the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former Khmer Rouge torture center and prison in the capital, staff and "tuk tuk" motorcycle taxi drivers awaited the arrival of visitors.

"I am worried that we can get infected, but I see that we Cambodians are following the instructions set by the government on wearing masks, washing hands with alcohol or soap and social distancing," said Theun Ngor, a 43 year-old tuk-tuk driver.

In November, Cambodia put in place a range of restrictions after a rare outbreak of community transmission linked to a 56-year-old woman who had traveled to the country’s two biggest cities since Nov. 20.

As Cambodia loosens curbs, authorities in neighboring Thailand warned on Monday that the country could face a strict lockdown as infection numbers climbed and spurring it to declare 28 provinces high-risk zones.

While welcoming the prospect of more business, a coffee vendor near the Tuol Sleng museum was concerned after hearing that some Cambodians working in Thailand had been infected.

"I am so worried that they could spread it here again," said Ngeth Sokuntheary, 27, as she prepared iced coffee.