Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Monday that citywide lockdowns in Phnom Penh and Kandal’s Takhmau city will be eased after May 5, and more targeted lockdowns will be used going forward.
The announcement brings an end to a three-week lockdown in the two cities, which was extended by seven days last week and also saw the introduction of a three-color zone system.
The red-zone communes, which have the harshest lockdown measures preventing movements and business activity, resulted in thousands of people calling for food and essential items in a Telegram group set up by the government. There were small protests in parts of Meanchey district where people demanded food aid.
Hun Sen said on Facebook that there was no reason to continue the lockdown in both cities and that the three-color zone system would be used in a more targeted manner. It was not immediately clear how lifting the lockdown differed from the current situation where yellow-zone communes have few restrictions and businesses have reopened.
“We will open. But some small areas of the provinces or [Phnom Penh] will be locked down due to the high risks of infection,” Hun Sen said on Facebook.
Cambodia has continued to see a high number of new infections, reporting around 2,000 cases in the last three days. There were 388 cases on Saturday, 730 on Sunday and 841 on Monday.
The prime minister appealed to Cambodians to understand why the lockdown was necessary but did not specify if the lockdown had worked.
Or Vandine, a secretary of state at the Health Ministry, could not be reached for comment on Monday.
During the lockdown, the government has detained 430 people and imprisoned 10 people for breaching lockdown measures during the past three weeks. Of the remaining, 60 were “educated” and 320 were fined under a new COVID-19 law, according to Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesperson San Sokseiha.
Yong Kim Eng, director of the People's Center for Development and Peace, said information about the lockdown changes constantly and is ambiguous.
“The measures are unclear and uncertain. It is hard for people to understand them properly. That’s why some people wrongly followed [the rules],” he said.
He urged the government to help those affected by the lockdown, especially residents in the red zones, and consider waving electricity and water charges for people stuck in the areas.
A group of 36 trade unions and NGOs raised their concerns in a statement about food shortages for residents living in red zones, where markets are not allowed to operate.
“Put in place social assistance programs such as emergency aid including food and other daily necessities provided in a timely manner during periods of lockdown, in particular for workers in red zones. Arrange clean, safe and suitable areas for traders, street vendors, market vendors and public vendors,” the April 28 statement reads.
The Cambodian government had delegated the Ministry of Commerce with the task of selling food and distributing food aid to people living in the red zones.