COVID-19 comes to Cambodia

The escalation of COVID-19 in India, Thailand, and most recently Taiwan has attracted considerable international attention. Overlooked in this reporting are the rising cases and deaths in Cambodia, which appeared to have a strong track record on COVID-19 until recently.

As of January 2021, one year after reporting its first case, Cambodia had reported zero deaths and only 400 total cases, garnering varying degrees of praise. Its initial success has also come into question, however. Some experts suggest the country had been undercounting its COVID-19 cases. They also point to other factors that contributed to the country’s COVID-19 performance, such as the quick and effective measures put in place by its larger and wealthier neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam, who had been two of the better performers against COVID-19 in the region. In addition, Cambodia’s performance benefited indirectly from its comparatively young population and the substantial international aid it has received. These factors gave Cambodia an edge against the coronavirus, raising doubts about whether its government had actually been responsible for this initial success.

Then, in late February, a new wave of community transfers which has yet to be contained hit the country. Cambodia finally recorded its first official death from the pandemic on March 11, with the total case count at 1,163. As of May 18, Cambodia had 159 deaths and 23,282 total cases. The country’s weak health care system is incapable of keeping up with the exponential growth in COVID-19 cases, as hospitals turn people away.

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