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Government to Adopt ‘State of Emergency’ Law as COVID-19 Tally Reaches 107; Casinos Nationwide to Close

People are walking in the park in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 11th February, 2020. (Malis Tum/VOA Khmer)
People are walking in the park in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 11th February, 2020. (Malis Tum/VOA Khmer)

The Cambodian government confirmed Monday morning four new coronavirus cases in the country, bringing the tally to 107, with Prime Minister Hun Sen to adopt the “state of emergency” law on Friday this week.

The four new cases include one French national and three Cambodians. Among the three Cambodians, a 30-year-old man from Banteay Meanchey province, worked at a casino and a karaoke bar.

Another man, a Kampong Cham native, had returned on Friday from a trip to Japan, and the third Cambodian with the disease returned on Friday from a trip to England. The French national, 61, had travelled from the South American country of Guyana.

Cambodia’s COVID-19 tally has seen a significant increase this month, even though its numbers remain low compared to its neighbors and far lower than some European countries and the United States.

Speaking to the media at the National Assembly, Hun Sen addressed the country’s response to the viral pandemic, announcing that the government finished a draft law to enforce a state of emergency, though not providing any details of its scope.

Article 22 of the Constitution allows for the King to declare a state of emergency after consulting with the Prime Minister and presidents of the National Assembly and Senate.

“Now the draft is finished. I will lead the cabinet meeting tomorrow on [March] 31st to discuss the draft before the meeting scheduled on Friday,” he said.

“I think the law is just a means to be ready and in hand when the situation is out of control,” Hun Sen, adding that he has not seen the situation needed to use this law yet. But he said the law will be enacted and promulgated by the King in an expedited manner.

He announced that all casinos have been ordered closed starting April 1 and has even banned the export of regular white rice and paddy rice, a key export product mainly to Vietnam and Thailand, starting April 5.

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia, said Hun Sen’s government had continually downplayed the threat of the virus but it seemed the prime minister had now realized a public health crisis was opportune for him to assume even more “dictatorial” powers.

“Giving [Prime Minister] Hun Sen more powers at this stage will probably just enable him to make bigger, more rights abusing mistakes going forward, and once again, it will be the Cambodian people who suffer,” he said in an email.