A Cambodian woman receives her first dose of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine at an inoculation site in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on April 1, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]


Efforts against COVID-19 shored up by Chinese vaccines and testing aid

Cambodians are drawing on support from China to make strides in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, with donated vaccines serving as the cornerstone of the country’s strategy.

China’s assistance is very significant and valuable for Cambodia,” said a Phnom Penh-based international relations expert surnamed Chap. The help from China is timely as “Cambodia is facing a big challenge in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic”. That help also extends to the provision of testing equipment.

The kingdom had registered 2,824 confirmed infections by Tuesday, with 22 deaths.

Concerns remain high as the virus has spread to many parts of the country, which has only limited resources to confront the pandemic.

On the vaccines front, China donated a second batch of doses from Chinese drugmaker Sinopharm last week. In early February, an initial batch of 600,000 doses was sent.

“This is a new testament to the iron friendship and close cooperation between the two governments and peoples, and it will undoubtedly contribute to building a Cambodia-China community with a shared future,” Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Tea Banh said at a handover event for the vaccine supplies on March 31.

Cambodia began its vaccination drive on Feb 10. As of Monday, more than 635,000 people in the designated priority groups had received the jabs, according to a government report.

The country is aiming to vaccinate at least 10 million of its 16 million people.

This month, the vaccination program was expanded beyond the priority groups, enabled by 1.5 million doses of a vaccine purchased from Chinese drugmaker Sinovac Biotech.

In addition to supplying vaccines, China is helping to accelerate the establishment of a COVID-19 testing laboratory in the coastal province of Sihanoukville. Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Wang Wentian told local media on April 1 that Beijing has donated testing equipment to the lab, which is being built by Cambodia.

Medical experts from China will be sent to help install the equipment and provide training, said Wang.

The lab will have a testing capacity of 1,000 samples a day. Aside from Sihanoukville Province, the facility will process samples from neighboring provinces, such as Kep and Kampot. With this capability, the lab will help Cambodia better manage the pandemic by speeding up testing and saving money.


Speeding up capacity

“The situation now is very difficult for Cambodia,” said Chheang Vannarith, president of the Asian Vision Institute, a think tank in Phnom Penh. “It is very necessary that we get support from China in terms of the testing capacity.”

China has been providing help to Cambodia since the virus reached the country. In early February, the Chinese embassy donated 10,000 testing kits to the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, a research organization in Phnom Penh.

Three referral laboratories in the institute’s virology unit are dedicated to respiratory virus surveillance, including one under the COVID-19 reference laboratory network of the World Health Organization.

Institute Executive Director Laurence Baril said the Chinese donations will support the activities of these referral laboratories.

A recent discovery by researchers at the institute identified a betacoronavirus closely related to SARSCoV-2 in bat samples from 2010. The finding suggests that Southeast Asia represents a key area to consider for research into the origins of the coronavirus.

Chheang Vannarith said China has done a lot to support Cambodia during the pandemic.

A medical expert team sent by China in March 2020 and the anti-pandemic supplies that Beijing has provided have sent a strong message of support, the Asian Vision Institute president said.