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Police Official Warns of “Stricter” Lockdown Despite Food Shortages

Authorities provide essential food to residents living in Psar Kandal I commune during the country's lockdown in Phnom Penh and Takhmau city, Cambodia, on April 26, 2021. (Kann Vicheika/VOA Khmer)

A senior Phnom Penh police official warned of “stricter” lockdown measures in the capital’s “red zones” as residents, who are unable to leave their homes, continue to make desperate calls for food donations.

Phnom Penh and the neighboring city of Takhmau implemented a new system on Thursday designating three zones - red, orange, and yellow-based on each commune’s case count. “Red zones” completely ban all business activity and prevent people from leaving their homes – leaving many in need of food and essential materials.

Deputy Phnom Penh Police Chief Sum Sokhim said personnel have been reassigned from “yellow zones,” where lockdown measures have been eased allowing for businesses to reopen, to “orange zones” and “red zones.” The zones will be reviewed in a week.

“For the next seven days, the enforcement on both red and orange zones must be tightened and must be stricter than the previous weeks because we cannot keep the status quo, otherwise we won’t be able to keep the situation under control,” Sum Sokhim said.

“It must be stricter, you know it must be stricter,” he said.

Sum Sokhim said 242 people had been arrested in the past two weeks for crimes ranging from drinking in groups, breaking through police checkpoints, and charged with “incitement” for spreading “fake news” on social media.

Forty-two of them have had their cases sent for further processing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and the rest were released, the deputy police chief added.

Most of the red zones are in the industrial areas in the city with a mix of factories, workers and residents.

Deputy Phnom Penh Governor Nuon Pharath told a press conference on Wednesday that the lockdown had been effective in keeping infections and that the government was working on sending food relief, but admitted shortcomings.

The government has shut down public markets across Phnom Penh, including in “red zones,” with the government taking on the responsibility of selling food and providing food donations.

Cambodians have been pleading for food and essential items via a Telegram group set up by a government committee in charge of implementing the lockdown. As the lockdown enters its third week, thousands of messages continue to flood the group on Thursday, which has more than 50,000 participants.

Vek Sokpov, 22, dropped a message in the group because she had exhausted all of her savings and had food stocks that would last no more than a week. She lives in Stung Meanchey 1 commune which has been a “red zone” for the past two weeks.

Sokpov, who for the past three years worked as a salesperson at an electronic gadgets shop, lost her job during the lockdown, putting pressure on her to support her family of five. They were surviving on eggs and instant noodles, she said.

“I cannot go to work and the shop has not paid my salary. Now I cannot even buy food – it is extremely difficult,” Sokpov said. “I think we will run out of everything in less than a week.”