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Phnom Penh turned to China, now it’s the ‘world’s most vaccinated capital city’

Human Rights Watch also accused the government of leaving people in the capital to starve at the height of its worst outbreak in May when areas were colour coded based on the infection rate and as many as 300,000 in so-called red zones were shut in their homes for weeks.

But the kingdom’s free vaccine program is eight months ahead of schedule and should be completed as much as a year ahead of neighbouring countries, the report by Mekong Strategic Partners says.

A man catches fish in Chres village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

A man catches fish in Chres village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.Credit:AP

In a region that is the global epicentre for COVID-19 and its variants, Cambodia has the advantage of not having a shadow of the population of Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar, nor even half that of Malaysia.

More than 27 million of the 30 million doses it has received have come from chief sponsor China, according to Cambodia’s health ministry. Most have been paid for rather than been gifted by the superpower, but in a health crisis in which vaccine supply has been a serious challenge, being positioned at the front of the queue has been key.

There have also been donations from the United States and Japan as well as via the COVAX Facility including shipments of AstraZeneca, which Cambodia has begun to use as booster shots for those who were vaccinated with Sinovac or Sinopharm. And after starting to vaccinate children over 12 last month, there is Moderna and Pfizer on the way for a scheme run by private hospitals in which the mRNA products can be purchased.

Along with the procurement itself, the report credits the vaccination progress to “simple ring-fenced distribution” based on location rather than age tiers, low vaccine hesitancy and vaccine mandates for large sections of the community such as the armed forces and public service.

“Cambodia is sitting right between Vietnam and Thailand, which are both being whacked by Delta at the moment,” Higgins said.

“We’ve got Delta here as well but it’s not really taking off. It’s just kind of bumping along the bottom because the place is vaccinated. So by the end of this month, we’re expecting that the government will pretty much re-open everything in the country.”

Border crossings to Thailand have been re-opened after they were closed in July and provinces facing the neighbouring country were locked down.

Cambodian garment workers head to work outside Phnom Penh in May following a lockdown.

Cambodian garment workers head to work outside Phnom Penh in May following a lockdown. Credit:AP

But Cambodia, which has recorded nearly all of its 95,000 cases and nearly 2000 deaths since April, is still averaging more than 400 new infections and a dozen deaths a day over the past week and remains on high alert.

Dr Li Ailan, the World Health Organisation’s representative to Cambodia, said the government had been proactive in accessing and distributing doses but warned “vaccine optimism” could be dangerous.

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“Vaccinations alone are not a silver bullet, they are just one of the critical tools in fighting COVID-19 and in reducing severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths,” the WHO Cambodia office said in a statement last month.

“Together we have come far, and we must continue to stand together; otherwise the hard-fought gains that have been made will be lost.”

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