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State Officials Will Be Fired If They Don’t Get COVID-19 Vaccine, Hun Sen Says

An official from the Ministry of Information is inoculated with a dose of China's Sinovac Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at the Ministry of Information in Phnom Penh on April 1, 2021. (Photo by TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP)

Civil society groups have urged the government to not enforce mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations as Prime Minister Hun Sen said state workers would have to get inoculated if they wanted to keep their jobs.

The prime minister released an audio message on his official Facebook page warning civil servants that they risked termination if they did not get vaccinated for COVID-19, adding that failure to get the vaccine would make them a potential infection risk.

“I would like to stress that those who intend to evade getting vaccinated are at risk of being terminated from their work; be it the armed forces, national and sub-national civil servants, or contract workers,” he said in the audio message.

The government started vaccinating people in early February with the Sinopharm, CoronaVac and Covishield vaccines, completing close to half a million shots as of Wednesday. The current vaccination push is targeting priority groups, including government officials.

Chak Sopheap, who heads the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the government should ensure voluntary vaccinations based on rules set by the World Health Organization with no coercion.

“This is important that we adhere to the WHO principle that the vaccination is voluntary and not that the state forces vaccination,” she said.

She added that there was hesitation in Cambodia about the quality and efficacy of the vaccines being used. Chak Sopheap said the government should focus on educating people about the importance of vaccinations and provide thorough information needed by the public.

Part of the hesitancy may lie with Hun Sen’s decision to not get the SInopharm vaccine at the last moment after Chinese officials informed the government that the vaccine should be administered to people under the age of 60.

Pech Pisey, the director of Transparency International Cambodia, said the government and the prime minister should not discriminate against people's decisions on vaccinations.

“It is basic rights that there should not be coercion in vaccination. Vaccination should be voluntary. And any individual should have the right to decide for one's health.”

Phay Siphan, a Council of Ministers' spokesperson, said that getting vaccinate against COVID-19 was a “duty” to help combat the spread of the viral disease and was not based on any political calculations.

“Other places in the world also use vaccines. How about that? The vaccines are not related to politics. Only those who talk ill about them are political.”

“If we talked about freedom. Freedom has a limit. I would say to civil society groups and others to not use the word “freedom” to plunge this nation into illness and death,” Phay Siphan said.