Cambodia issues order banning travel to and from Phnom Penh

PHNOM PENH — The Cambodian government on Thursday issued an order banning most travel throughout the country for a week, in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Issued with little warning, the order, signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, comes ahead of Cambodia’s new year holiday, when many people visit their families in the countryside.

The ban, which comes into effect at midnight, blocks movement throughout most of the country until April 16, with a few exceptions.

In a Facebook post, Hun Sen said he had “no choice” but to enact restrictions to protect people’s safety.

People in Phnom Penh will remain free to move around in the city, but are barred from leaving. Those outside the capital will not be allowed to enter. People living outside the capital are also not permitted to move between districts — administrative regions within Cambodia’s 24 provinces. Provincial borders also cannot be crossed.

The order exempts those transporting food from the travel restrictions. Government officials, military personnel, emergency service workers and waste management employees are also exempt, but must carry identification.

Factory workers can travel to their workplaces, but must register with Labor Ministry officials. Individuals seeking health care are also free to travel, but only in groups of three or less.

Cambodia has reported 118 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It has banned travelers from several countries and shut schools and entertainment venues. It has also postponed the official Khmer New Year holiday celebrations.

Hun Sen has assured citizens that the government has the virus under control. There are doubts, however, about authorities’ ability to detect community transmission of the disease. Cambodia has a notoriously poor health care system. Several countries have detected the coronavirus in travelers returning from Cambodia.

The travel lockdown comes ahead of a state of emergency law likely to be approved by Cambodia’s rubber-stamp parliament the coming days. The legislation codifies sweeping powers for the government, allowing it to rule by declaring martial law for an extended period.

Hun Sen said the government needed a legal framework to declare an emergency. He said there was only a small chance of such a declaration. Rights groups have condemned the legislation as draconian, calling the vaguely worded bill a “naked power grab.”

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