Cambodia’s Ministry of Health has tested at least 628 people for coronavirus in an effort to contact trace those who were in close proximity to Hungary’s top diplomat, who tested positive for the virus after his visit Cambodia this week.
Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto tested positive Tuesday after leaving Cambodia for Thailand, but during his visit, he met with several senior Lao government officials, many of whom breached precautionary rules by not wearing masks, shaking hands with him, or not strictly observing social distancing.
All those people tested negative and have been placed into quarantine, though those exposed to the coronavirus often do not exhibit a viral load significant enough to register positive in a test for days or even weeks after making contact with a carrier.
RFA reported Wednesday that Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and 17 family members were among the first tested, with Hun Sen saying on social media that he had tested negative and was going into quarantine.
A resident of Phnom Penh told RFA’s Khmer Service that he was very concerned that Hun Sen and the rest of the officials neglected to take the proper precautions.
“They failed to take all the necessary measures. They shook hands, they didn’t wear masks and didn’t keep physical distancing. They were just careless and downplayed the whole pandemic,” said Uon Vannak.
The ministry announced today that it would establish four public quarantine centers in Phnom Penh by late December. Construction work on the quarantine center began in September. The centers can collectively accommodate 460 people, and the ministry said it would build two more centers with the aim of accommodating 800 in the future.
On his first day in quarantine, Hun Sen wrote on Facebook that he is at home and felt nothing out of the ordinary as enjoyed his meals, slept well and continued his work.
He revealed that he and his wife had to sleep in different rooms, while his housemaids and servants had to wear protective gear as advised by doctors.
“My family and I and the rest of people in quarantine are all expected to get four tests,” he said.
“If we are all clear for Covid-19 after those tests, I will reunite with my wife,” he said.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan told RFA that Hun Sen would continue to work from home and would refrain from all public ceremonies and events.
Yong Kim Eng, president of the local People’s Center for Development and Peace NGO, told RFA that the leaders of the country learned a tough lesson that they have to obey their own restrictions.
“The government institutions should be more careful and act as role models for the rest of the Cambodian people in terms of how they address the pandemic,” he said.
“They have to take the necessary precautionary measures with all due diligence. More effort to increase awareness and education is necessary to remind the public of how important it is to strictly follow the Ministry of Health and WHO guidelines.”
Cambodia has reported 292 coronavirus cases with no deaths.
On Monday, the country opened schools for the first time since March, citing the results of a trial phase in which some schools in the capital Phnom Penh and parts of eastern Cambodia reopened last month.
Class sizes and hours remain limited as the coronavirus continues to rage throughout Europe and the U.S.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Eugene Whong.