Locked down during Cambodia’s virus outbreak, people are running out of food

Posted by: | Posted on: May 7, 2021

Op-Ed: Washington Post

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Thea is worried that he will go hungry. He hasn’t left his home in Phnom Penh since April 15, when Cambodia’s government imposed a citywide lockdown to curb the country’s first large coronavirus outbreak.

“The lockdown was so rushed that I didn’t even have time to get extra food. We have hardly any food left, but I cannot leave my house because there are so many police outside,” said Thea, a 40-year-old garment worker who spoke on the condition that only his first name be used because he feared government reprisals.

These women are the most desperate family members as their husbands and/or wives are incarcerated by the authority while their daily living are locked down completely in the compromising tactic by the dictator as he said: “in order to protect million lives, I could kill few lives”.

As Western countries gradually conquer the virus through mass vaccination, the pandemic is flaring up again in some poorer regions of the world, including Southeast Asia, despite inoculation efforts.

In Cambodia, which had avoided the worst of the pandemic, a surge in cases has led authorities to resort to an extreme lockdown that some residents say has pushed them toward eviction or starvation. On Friday, officials announced 558 new cases, bringing the total to 18,179 with 114 deaths. While the government eased restrictions in some places this week, high-risk areas remain under lockdown.

The most draconian measures apply to neighborhoods deemed “red zones,” where no one is permitted to leave home, not even to buy food. Officers patrol the streets at all hours and are authorized to fine or arrest anyone moving around without a permit. In some cases, police officers have beaten people with sticks for violating the rules — punishment the government considers “necessary” to enforce stay-at-home orders, according to Phay Siphan, a government spokesman.

Desperate for help

Thea and his wife live in a small rented room in Tuol Sangke I, a designated red zone in the capital.

Although the government has begun distributing food to cooped-up residents, Thea said he and many of his friends who are also living in red zones have yet to receive a single donation since the lockdown went into effect.

“I heard that some people have received food, but the government is not helping people equally,” said Thea. “When I talk to my friends, they are in a similar position but we don’t know how to ask for help.”

Those who have received food donations say they have been given small servings of rice, canned fish and sauce — hardly enough to feed one person, let alone a family.

With nowhere else to turn, some residents have begun posting their anguish on social media, calling for the government to do more.

“Workers are desperate. Some are posting pictures of their small kids who are starving for food. And that type of image, I think, makes the government really embarrassed,” said Khun Tharo, program manager with the Cambodia-based Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, which is supporting unemployed workers during the lockdown. “One worker posted a critical message on Facebook and the district authority came to her home and asked her to delete it.”

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