Cambodia has reported its first death from the coronavirus amid its biggest COVID-19 outbreak so far, after a 50-year-old man succumbed to the virus after testing positive less than two weeks ago.
With just 1,124 coronavirus infections recorded in total, Cambodia has among the fewest cases in Asia – although a sharp rise in infections since February 20 has seen its overall tally more than double.
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The man died mid-morning on Thursday, the health ministry said in a statement.
It said he tested positive on February 27 and was a driver for a Chinese national who lived in the coastal town of Sihanoukville, who was also infected.
According to the Health Ministry, the new outbreak was traced to a foreign resident who broke quarantine in a hotel and went to a nightclub in early February. That caused a slew of infections and led the government on February 20 to announce a two-week closure of all public schools, cinemas, bars and entertainment areas in Phnom Penh.
The government has since extended the closures for more than two weeks for schools, gyms, concert halls, museums and other entertainment venues in Phnom Penh, nearby Kandal province and the coastal province of Sihanoukville.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry said 39 cases were reported from local transmission.
The Southeast Asian nation of about 16 million people is located next to Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, which have all been successful in keeping coronavirus outbreaks under control.
The country began its vaccination campaign in February with 600,000 doses of the Chinese-produced Sinopharm vaccine. It also received 324,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine this month that were donated by and produced in India.
Cambodia passed a strict virus prevention bill in March.
The new law specifies a prison term of three years for breaking quarantine orders and up to 20 years in jail for any organised group intentionally spreading the virus.
Health Minister Mam Bunheng called it “a strong legal base for the government … to protect lives and public health”.
Human rights groups say the law could be used to suppress dissent in a country that has seen successive crackdowns on opposition voices under strongman Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Hun Sen is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders, having held power for 36 years using methods that critics say include jailing political opponents and activists.