COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, is hitting Cambodia mercilessly. Schools were ordered to close throughout the country by The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education on Saturday the 14th of March. On the prior day a Canadian staff member of the Canadian International School on Koh Pich had tested positive for the virus. Many schools have switched to teaching their students online in response to the forced closures.
Four days later on Tuesday the 17th of March, the Ministry of Health issued a statement temporarily prohibiting religious gatherings after 17 Cambodians tested positive for COVID-19 after they had returned from a religious congregation in Malaysia.
A British man that visited the Tuol Sleng genocide museum with a Chinese friend were suspected of having contacted the virus and was admitted to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital. The man escaped triggering a manhunt and he was found to have fled to Kampot. The stunt has angered locals adding fuel to the fire making locals feel that foreigners, particularly Westerners, are not taking the pandemic seriously.
While locals are seen wearing protective masks and taking countermeasures, foreigners have taken a much laxer approach worrying more about visa extensions and restaurant closures than about being infected. Foreigners often claim to not take precautions because they feel that masks and hand sanitizers don’t work to combat COVID-19, something that has angered Cambodians and made them feel like Westerners don’t care about their health and safety.
Foreigners have said on social media that hotels and guesthouses flatly reject them as customers. Even small businesses like barbers and clothes shops are reportedly turning Westerners down telling them to go elsewhere.
An expatriate wrote on Facebook that the police had called him and told him to cancel his plans to travel to Kampong Cham because they were afraid he would bring the virus there infecting the local population.
On Thursday the U.S. Embassy to Cambodia said in a statement on Facebook that they had received reports of harassment or discrimination directed at expatriates related to COVID-19 developments. “Security personnel have forcibly closed some restaurants and bars frequented by expatriates”, they wrote warning of attacks targeting Americans.
The Government of Cambodia has announced a 30-day suspension of entry into Cambodia for foreigners traveling from the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Iran — effective March 17. Cambodian authorities have not provided details on implementation of this suspension, including whether immigration officials will allow American citizens with residence or work permits to enter Cambodia and under what conditions.
Several airlines report that, under instruction from Cambodian authorities, they are not currently boarding citizens from these six countries on international flights into Cambodia.
Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice. Quarantine policies in Cambodia are unclear and not well-established, and may be unpredictable. Foreigners traveling or residing in Cambodia who are required to observe a public health quarantine may experience austere, unsanitary, or ad-hoc conditions.
In Thailand, Minister of Public Health and Deputy Prime Minister took to Twitter to criticize Western foreigners saying they are dirty people who don’t shower. After visiting Chiang Mai he noted that “not a single one was wearing a mask”. He estimated that 90% of the Thais in the northern city were wearing masks trying to protect themselves and their peers from becoming infected.
“We must be careful about them,” he said, suggesting that the Westerners had closed off their countries and were avoiding each other.
In Vietnam, businesses have also refused Westerners after WHO declared Europe a new epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. Several businesses have put up signs to prevent Westerners from trying to use their services.
On Wednesday the Prime Minister of Vietnam made a statement that businesses that were found to discriminate against foreigners out of fear of COVID-19 transmission build be strictly punished.