With the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus spreading throughout the world, countries have started reimposing travel restrictions, raising concerns that Cambodia’s tourism industry will dealt another blow just as it starts to welcome international travellers again.
However, with around 87 percent of the population fully vaccinated against Covid-19, daily infections dropping to just 25 yesterday and widespread awareness of how to prevent transmission, economists and tourism industry officials alike are warning against overreaction.
“This is the newest threat to our industry as everyone knows that Cambodia is just re-opening without the 14-day quarantine and now another crisis has spread,” said Sinan Thourn, President of the Cambodia chapter of the Pacific Asia Travel Association.
“I believe the Cambodian government will take the right action and measurements on this issue,” he added.
Omicron was first discovered in southern Africa and cases have now been discovered in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific.
Hong Kong. Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore have all announced travel restrictions on some countries due to concerns over the variant.
A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said Cambodia has no plans to ban flights from some countries which have the virus since there have been no local cases of the variant.
A spokesman for Cambodia Airports, which operates the country’s three international facilities in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville said he had faith in the government’s ability to handle the situation.
“The news has cast a shadow but we also have to hear what medical experts are going to tell us about the variant before drawing conclusions,” said Norinda Khek.
“Health safety measures are well in place at the three international airports and we’ll be working closely with Cambodian authorities if they need to be swiftly ramped up. Based on actions it has been taking for the last two years to fight the pandemic, we are confident in the government’s capacity to face dynamic and fast-evolving situations,” he said.
Head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Country Office to the Kingdom of Cambodia Dr Li Ailan said the nation needs to be prepared to act quickly if the variant does spread here.
“There is an increased risk that Omicron will be imported to more countries and spread globally including possibly in Cambodia in this highly interconnected world,” she said. “We need to be ready for a good response to ongoing and new threats due to Covid-19 new variants.”
Dr Li said the WHO was concerned about Omicron for three reasons: the variant has a large number of mutations, which may increase the risk of reinfection; there is a high risk of importation and reinfection; and managing the uncertainties of Omicron will present a challenge to governments and health systems.
The WHO said it is still not clear whether Omicron is more transmissible or more severe than the Delta variant.
Moody’s Analytics Chief Asia-Pacific Economist Steven Cochrane said a lack of scientific research on Omicron meant he was not planning to make any changes to next month’s regional economic forecasts.
“Omicron reminds us that the global economic recovery remains tethered to the pandemic,” he said.
“We are broadly assuming that there will be new waves of infections, but that each wave will be less disruptive to the healthcare system and economy than the previous one. We assume that the Omicron variant is consistent with this assumption. If the variant turns out to be more contagious, virulent, and disruptive to the economy, we will need to revise our economic outlook.”
Concerns about the spread of Omicron may help speed up immunisation campaigns in countries that have been slower to act than Cambodia, Cochrane said, pointing to Myanmar, Laos, Indonesia, India, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, that have vaccinated less than 65 percent of their populations.
This article was first published in Khmer Times. All contents and images are copyright to their respective owners and sources.