Cambodia’s official daily COVID-19 case numbers dropped by 76 percent in one day after Prime Minister Hun Sen directed officials to stop administering rapid tests to people who did not exhibit symptoms.

The Ministry of Health reported 232 cases on Friday, down from 978 the day before. Friday’s figures stated that they were discovered through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, implying that positive cases from rapid antigen tests were not counted.

Over 80% population vaccinated but Cambodia Covid cases still surge daily

Despite the fact that Cambodia is nearing the end of its vaccination campaign, the country’s caseload has been steadily increasing in recent weeks.

Following the release of audio of Hun Sen instructing high-ranking officials to only test people who exhibit symptoms, the number of cases dropped dramatically. The instructions were confirmed by three government officials, according to the local news outlet VOD.

Hun Sen complains in the audio, obtained by Nikkei Asia, that authorities were going into the community and finding asymptomatic carriers without need. He directed his subordinates to discontinue proactive testing in favor of setting up locations where people experiencing symptoms could be tested.

“In the provinces please stop finding [COVID] with rapid tests in the villages, in the communes and other places,” he said in the recording, reportedly from late Wednesday. “But we will conduct rapid tests when they present themselves at the fixed place.”

Hun Sen: ‘Even my nose is almost ruined’

Hun Sen pointed to complaints that the rapid tests were uncomfortable and noted his own experience of regular swabs. “Even my nose is almost ruined,” he said.

He added that the new approach would help the country reopen, saying: “We don’t need to do this like before, now is the time we have to learn to live with COVID.”

During the first year of the pandemic, Cambodia reported less than 500 cases and no virus-related deaths. A super-spreader event at a nightclub in February sparked an outbreak that, when combined with the recent introduction of the highly transmissible Delta variant, has resulted in more than 100,000 cases and 2,319 deaths.

The country has received praise for its rapid vaccine rollout. It has delivered one dose to more than 80 percent of its 16 million-person population, primarily using Chinese shots, and is in the process of immunizing children. It has given a booster shot to approximately 875,000 people.

Hun Sen provided a rough breakdown of fatal cases who were vaccinated for the first time, say experts.

“I would request please don’t forward this [message] to other people,” he said of his instructions to subordinates.

Following the issuance of what Hun Sen referred to as “a new path,” provincial cities and towns such as Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, and Preah Vihear lifted emergency measures in areas designated as “red zones” due to high COVID-19 spread.

23 more Covid deaths, 199 infections in Cambodia on Oct 3

The Ministry of Health on October 3 reported 199 new Covid-19 cases, 44 of which were imported.

The ministry also reported 23 new deaths and 490 recoveries, according to The Phnom Penh Post.

As of October 3, Cambodia had recorded a total of 113,256 Covid-19 cases with 104,408 recoveries and 2,383 fatalities.