Cambodia reports first COVID-19 death, 1 year into pandemic

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia on Thursday confirmed its first death from COVID-19 since the pandemic began more than a year ago as it battles a new local outbreak that has infected hundreds of people.

The 50-year-old man was confirmed infected last month while working as a driver for a Chinese company in coastal Sihanoukville and died at the Khmer-Soviet friendship hospital Thursday morning, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Cambodia has confirmed only 1,163 cases of infection with the coronavirus since the pandemic began, but it is battling a new local outbreak that has infected several hundred people.

According to the Health Ministry, the new outbreak was traced to a foreign resident who broke quarantine in a hotel and went to a nightclub in early February. That caused a slew of infections and led the government on Feb. 20 to announce a two-week closure of all public schools, cinemas, bars and entertainment areas in Phnom Penh.

The government has since extended the closures for more two weeks for schools, gyms, concert halls, museums and other entertainment venues in Phnom Penh, nearby Kandal province and the coastal province of Sihanoukville.

On Thursday, the Health Ministry said 39 cases were reported from local transmission.

As the outbreak grows, a defunct luxury hotel in the capital has been converted into a 500-room coronavirus hospital, and authorities are enforcing a new law imposing criminal punishments for violating health rules.

The country began its vaccination campaign in February with 600,000 doses of the Chinese-produced Sinopharm vaccine. It also received 324,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine this month that were donated by and produced in India.