In March 2020, Cambodian authorities made it clear they would take no chances with COVID-19. Tourism visas were suspended. Land borders were closed, leaving citizens stranded. Curfews and domestic travel restrictions emptied the kingdom’s world-renowned archaeological sites of visitors and shut down once-bustling nightlife spots.
For nearly a year, such vigilance made Cambodia a COVID-19 success story. As of January this year, the country had recorded no deaths from the coronavirus and just 463 positive cases, 86 percent of which were imported cases that were contained by what was described as a “watertight” quarantine-on-arrival system.
But in February, just months shy of a comprehensive vaccine rollout, a string of community outbreaks rippled out from casino towns and hotels. Within three months, cases rose from a few hundred to tens of thousands.