Throughout August 2021 I have followed global statistics charting the spread of Covid 19.
There is a saying among foreigners who have lived and worked for decades in Cambodia, and have and forged lasting friendships. We tell each other, ‘You can catch Cambodeitis,. It’s a lasting love of this country’.
Many of my Cambodian friends are experienced medics. I have followed global figures and reliable Cambodian sources. I feel surprised and relieved. I have found good news about Cambodia’s Covid 19 statistics.
From a peak of daily infections there has been a steady fall throughout August. This is so even though Delta has crossed Cambodia’s borders.
By the last week of August, in this nation of around sixteen million people, the average daily number of infections country-wide is four hundred and twenty-two. This is a dramatic drop from a daily average infection rate of nine hundred and eighty as was charted in the first week of July.
Vaccination rates have climbed, death rates have steadily declined. At the end of August over 8,500,000 Cambodians are fully vaccinated and 1,500.000 have received one dose. The target of 12,000,000 fully vaccinated is within reach.
I do not know what might happen next, but I must salute this valiant effort.
Maha Ghosananda, a legendary Buddhist monk, taught: ‘From great suffering comes great compassion’. Over and over again I have watched Cambodians putting compassion into action. During more that four decades concerted efforts to respond to suffering have overcome great challenges. Communities have co-operated to safeguard against landmine incidents. They have mounted a competent response to the HIV/Aids contagion. They have developed innovative strategies to curb the spread of multiple-drug-resistant TB in remote villages. The list goes on.
Along the way, medics and community workers have tried every scheme possible to rally the support of locals across the country.. They will know what to do in this fresh challenge. There will be billboards along the highways, and flyers wherever people gather. These messages will, as always, be conveyed in pictures, not just words. Every kind of media will be used, and wherever Cambodians meet there will be talk of safeguarding, distancing, masks.
In early August a friend in Battambang told me proudly that of all ASEAN countries Cambodia had the second highest percentage of it’s population already vaccinated. On the charts available during that time Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in the ASEAN region, was ahead of nations such as Australia and New Zealand.
Healthcare workers were vaccinated first. As evidence was collected across the world, statistics showed that people who were fully vaccinated were at least 90% less likely to need intensive care should they catch COVID. This is very important for Cambodia where hospitals could be overwhelmed.
The Delta variant is spreading rapidly in nations bordering Cambodia to the west and to the east. Thailand is suffering a catastrophic spread of Delta. To the east Vietnam still has an extremely low rate of vaccination. The borders to these countries have always been porous. The stakes are high.
In the capital, Phnom Penh, it is said that herd immunity has now been reached in this city and its surrounds. Schools and universities will start to reopen in provinces where the risk is low. Vaccination is now available for twelve to seventeen year-olds.
China his donated Sinopharm and Sinovac . The USA has donated a million doses of Johnson and Johnson which will be used to vaccinate Indigenous peoples in Cambodia’s northeast. The UK has donated Astra Zenica Oxford. Other countries have donated smaller amounts. Cambodia is purchasing even more.
Can this be enough? I do not know. Whatever the outcome, I hope that Cambodians, will always remember that in August 2021 they once more met a challenge and did all that they could to respond.