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Cambodia acts after bodyguard tests positive for Covid-19

Schools, bars and cinemas to close for at least two weeks as face masks become compulsory

Cambodia acts after bodyguard tests positive for Covid-19

A scout carries balloons during a ceremony at the Independence Monument marking Cambodia's Independence Day in Phnom Penh on Nov. 9. Cambodia is celebrating the 67th anniversary of its independence from France in 1953. (Photo: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)

The Cambodian government has reimposed Covid-19 restrictions after a bodyguard of Prime Minister Hun Sen tested positive for the virus amid fears of a wider outbreak following a diplomatic visit by Hungary’s foreign minister.

Health ministry officials said the 31-year-old bodyguard had come into contact with the Hungarian diplomatic delegation during an official visit to Cambodia.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto tested positive in Bangkok after leaving Phnom Penh on Nov. 3. His visit was meant to strengthen ties between the countries with Hungary acting as Cambodia’s strategic trade bridge into Europe.

The health ministry said at least 628 people, including First Lady Bun Rany and 18 bodyguards, were exposed to the delegation but latest tests conducted on another 52 people were negative.

Hun Sen said he and others would enter quarantine as a precautionary measure and called on all those who had contact with the Hungarian delegation to strictly follow health and quarantine guidelines.

Further restrictions include the closure of schools in Phnom Penh and in surrounding Kandal province, while bars, karaoke venues, nightclubs, cinemas and museums will also close for at least two weeks.

The National Stadium has also closed until further notice, while face masks are making a return. However, outdoor restaurants are expected to remain open.

Cambodia has emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic after the government shut its land borders and imposed strict measures on the few people still arriving by flight.

Just 297 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed with 288 recoveries and no deaths. Two more confirmed cases were added to the list on Nov. 9, both Cambodian men returning from Japan on a flight via South Korea.

Phnom Penh is looking for alternative trade routes into Europe following the loss of trade perks under the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) policy and in early October it was designated a high-risk country for money laundering, which could result in economic sanctions.

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The pandemic and the loss of EU trade perks have hurt the Cambodian economy. The tourism industry has collapsed and the loss of orders in the garment and textiles industry has taken a heavy toll on the economy, particularly its poor and lowly paid workers.

Hungary’s “bridge strategy” was designed to improve Cambodian-EU relations.

Before the pandemic, the garment industry was worth about US$7 billion a year with about 700,000 workers earning about $190 a month producing for big brands such as Levi Strauss and Adidas.

The Garment Manufacturers Association says 450 factories have suspended work and another 83 have closed, hurting about 150,000 workers. In response, the Cambodian government has allocated $1.2 billion to bolster the economy.

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