Vietnam shutters borders with Cambodia as pandemic spreads
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Vietnam shutters borders with Cambodia as pandemic spreads

Tourists walk with a guide outside the Royal Palace which has being closed for visitors as precaution against the coronavirus outbreak in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (Reuters photo)
Tourists walk with a guide outside the Royal Palace which has being closed for visitors as precaution against the coronavirus outbreak in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (Reuters photo)

PHNOM PENH: The Vietnamese government has locked down its borders with Cambodia and imposed a month-long entry ban for any foreign traveller — except accredited diplomats — as the country adopts measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

A letter sent to Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn from Cambodian ambassador to Vietnam Chay Navuth said: “As of noon on March 15, the government of Vietnam has suspended the issuance of all visas to all foreigners and will deny entry to travellers coming from the UK and the 26 Schengen countries. The entry ban, which will be in effect for 30 days, includes all travellers that have visited or transited to said countries in the past 14 days,” the Khmer Times reported on Thursday.

As of Thursday, Vietnam’s Ministry of Health confirmed a total of 76 Covid-19 cases in the country.

Lt Gen Leang Phearom, director of the Ministry of Interior’s land border department, on Wednesday confirmed the border closures.

“All borders have been barricaded, especially the international border checkpoints,” he said.

Mam Yoy, deputy immigration police chief of the Bavet International Border Checkpoint, said on Wednesday the closures have left hundreds of people stranded.

“Vietnam has closed all entry points to the country and ordered everyone who wants to enter to place themselves under a 14-day quarantine near the border, making it difficult for anyone to go in,” he said.

On average, he said around 200 Cambodian businesspeople travel to Vietnam daily to purchase products from the country. “Both Vietnamese and Cambodian businessmen are unhappy with the closure as it puts incredible strains on their livelihood,” said Yoy, adding local border gates were closed first before the international checkpoints, as they had no health officials stationed there.

Vietnam and Cambodia share five international borders, namely Bavet-Moc Bai, Kaam Samnor-Vinh Xuong, Phnom Den-Tinh Bien, Prek Chak-Xa Xia and O’Yadao-Le Thanh.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Centre for Development and Peace, said on Wednesday although the Vietnamese government’s decision to impose border closures were done to protect the health and well-being of its citizens, the move to clamp down on frontiers with Cambodia was unnecessary as no coronavirus case has been reported along the border areas.

The closures, said Kim Eng, could lead to real output losses and may lead to an uptick in inflation due to the lack of trade activity and shortage of goods.

“The price of goods will go up, so the government needs to resolve the issue immediately and make sure the cost of rice will not increase too much,” he said, noting if the situation drags on, Cambodia could face an economic crisis.

Centre for Policy Studies director Chan Sophal on Wednesday said the closures will inflect a negative impact on the kingdom’s economy as Vietnam is a major consumer of local agricultural products.

“The prices could go down dramatically. Right now, the prices of pepper and other products have already declined. This will affect the income of hundreds of families. In the meantime, the prices of products bought from Vietnam could go through the roof,” he said.

However, he noted closing of the borders will not lead to an economic fallout unless it extends longer.

The trade volume between Cambodia and Vietnam amounts to about US$5 billion.

Meanwhile, the Thai government has yet to close down the Poipet border checkpoint.

“I have not received any information from the Thai government regarding a possible closing of the border. If they do close it, they will inform us ahead of time,” said Cambodian ambassador to Thailand Ouk Sophoin.

“The Poipet border checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey is still in full operation,” said provincial governor Oum Reatrey.

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