PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia on Sunday received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine, a donation of 600,000 doses from China, the country’s biggest ally.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, his senior Cabinet members and Chinese Ambassador Wang Wentian were at Phnom Penh International Airport for a reception ceremony for the Sinopharm vaccine carried by a Chinese Air Force flight.
Hun Sen had announced that he would be the first person to be vaccinated, but backtracked last week, saying the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine was effective only for people aged between 18 and 59, while he is 68.
He said Sunday at the airport that he would urge younger members of his family, as well as top officials and generals under 60, to get vaccinated Wednesday as an example to the public.
China, were the virus was first found in late 2019, has been making such donations to several nations in what has been dubbed “vaccine diplomacy,” aimed especially at poorer countries like Cambodia
China is Cambodia’s biggest investor and closest political partner, and provides Hun Sen critical support that he is denied by Western nations, which maintain cool relations because they judge his government to be repressive. Cambodia in turn backs Beijing’s geopolitical positions in international forums on issues such as China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Chine recently announced it would give Cambodia 1 million doses of the vaccine produced by Beijing Institute of Biological Products Co., but a date for delivering the rest of the promised amount has not yet been set.
Cambodia has recorded 474 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with no deaths.
Hun Sen said earlier this month that Cambodia seeks to reserve 20 million vaccine doses to inoculate 10 million people, roughly two-thirds of its total population
He said that so far, Cambodia had received pledges of assistance that would allow it to acquire 11 million doses.
In addition to the 1 million doses from China, Australia has announced a grant of $28 million to purchase 3 million vaccine doses, and it is also set to get 7 million doses through the WHO’s COVAX initiative.
Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng has said his ministry is allowing use of the Sinopharm vaccine under emergency authorization but did not say when mass vaccinations would begin.
Chinese army specialists came to Cambodia ahead of the vaccine to provide instructions on its storage, transport and usage.
Sopheng Cheang, The Associated Press