PHNOM PENH, April 7 (Reuters) - Cambodia started on Wednesday to vaccinate workers in its textile industry, concentrating on the $7 billion backbone of its economy to help jump-start a post-pandemic recovery.
Cambodia still has one of the world's smallest coronavirus caseloads, but an outbreak that started in late February has led to its first 22 COVID-19 deaths and a five-fold increase in total cases to 2,915.
As its vaccination campaign ramps up, focus has been placed on the textile sector, which employs about 850,000 workers, mostly women, and makes up 16% of the Cambodian economy.
Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour, who was observing the inoculation of workers at an industrial park in Phnom Penh, said the government aimed to increase the pace of vaccinations to 1,000 to 1,200 a day at each injection centre.
"That's also for the other two vaccination locations. We will then open other places which can accommodate vaccination numbers of 800 to 1,200 per day," Heng Sour told Reuters.
The plan is to set up 10 other locations to hit a target of vaccinating 10,000 to 12,000 people per day, he said.
At the vaccination site, an announcement kept repeating over a small speaker telling workers to ready documents, including their identity cards and the papers they had signed saying they agreed to take China's Sinovac vaccine.
"I take this vaccination today to prevent spreading (the coronavirus) to everyone else around me. So I vaccinate to protect myself, people around me and my family members from getting infected by this coronavirus," said Lao Sreymao, a 22-year-old textile factory worker.
Infections among factory workers remain low, said the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC).
"We continue to strictly implement the safety procedure and speed up vaccination process at the fastest speed possible," GMAC Deputy Secretary General Kaing Monika told Reuters.
Kaing Monika said the government wants to vaccinate 100,000 workers in April, 200,000 in May and 200,000 again in June.
Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered health officials on Tuesday to prepare to treat coronavirus patients at home, as the outbreak is testing the capacity of Cambodia's fragile healthcare system.
Hun Sen, who had said earlier vaccinations would be on a volunteer basis, said on Tuesday that civil servants will have to be inoculated if they want to keep their jobs.
"Officials who don't get vaccinated may not be able to go to work ... please sleep at home," Hun Sen said, using a Khmer phrase meaning that they would be fired from their jobs. (Reporting by Lach Chantha and Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Tom Hogue)
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