The first diagnosis of COVID-19 here came in January. Cambodia made news around the world later in February when it allowed the MS Westerdam cruise ship to come to port here after four countries turned it away.
Initially, the official response to COVID-19 here was to focus on maintaining a positive relationship with China. There were few official diagnoses and testing was rare. Crystal outlined some of the preventative measures we implemented then.
A little over a week ago, after cases in Italy spiked, there was a shift and many foreigners started to be diagnosed. This resulted in the Ministry of Education closing all schools in Siem Reap province, then the capital of Phnom Penh, and finally across all of Cambodia.
In other countries there has been a ‘blame the foreigner’ mentality and increased xenophobia, but that’s manifested differently here in Cambodia. There’s definitely fear but we haven’t seen large scale discrimination as in some other contexts. One person came up to me at the local local grocery store and gave me a mask with a smile telling me it was for my protection (I was the only person there without a mask).
When the Ministry of Education closed schools in Phnom Penh we made the decision to close the MCC Cambodia office except for essential functions as well. Everyone has been working from home. We also circulated ‘social distancing’ guidelines to all personnel and our partners.
In the last few days there’s been another shift and now Cambodian Muslims make the bulk of new diagnoses. I heard from one of our peace partners today that this has lead to an increase in discrimination against the Muslim minority here.
Yesterday, the US State Department issued a Level 4 Travel advisory recommending that US Citizens avoid travel abroad and that “those who are already abroad are urged to return home immediately, unless they plan to remain out of the country indefinitely.” Because of this our two SALT volunteers made the decision to return to the US three months early. We saw them off at the airport this morning. (We’re planning to be here another 4.5 years so felt we fell under the indefinitely category.)
We’ve been staying connected with the team working from home through the Telegram app, group Cosmic Kids Yoga time, and sharing lots of photos. Next week we’re planning to establish sub-groups that check in on each other and set up a weekly all-team Zoom call. We’re not certain when we’ll reopen the office for non-essential functions.
Our new Connecting Peoples Coordinator, Clivia, arrived a week early on Monday. I’ll be saying more about her in another post. We had to rush her here because Cambodia placed a 30 day travel ban on the US starting Tuesday (she got here just in time!). Air travel has also become very chaotic with lots of cancellations, sudden travel bans, and unexpected quarantines. It’s not a good time to travel internationally.
I got a pool for the girls as we started ‘social distancing’ and it might be the best purchase I’ve ever made in my entire life. It hasn’t been easy on them to be stuck in the house all day but the water play really calms and centers them.