Cambodians wearing face masks to protect against Covid-19 offer incense sticks at a temple to mark the start of the lunar new year in Ta Khmao, Kandal province, on Feb. 12. (Photo: AFP)
Cambodia's Health Ministry has confirmed its first UK variant of the Covid-19 virus among arrivals at Phnom Penh International Airport as Prime Minister Hun Sen called for stricter measures at air, land and sea ports.
The ministry said the UK variant was found in a 28-year-old Indian man and a 23-year-old Indian woman returning from India on Feb. 3.
Another infected patient, a 26-year-old Chinese woman returning from China on Feb. 7, had also been confirmed, the ministry said in a statement, adding their tests have been confirmed by the Pasteur Institute of Cambodia.
“Medical scientists are finding along with the WHO [World Health Organization] greater fatality, infecting speed and severity of the variant of which cases have been found in the country, the region and the entire world,” the ministry said.
“Therefore, we would like to ask the people to always be cautious and never ignore the possibility of infections of this new variant in the Cambodian community.”
The three cases with the variant were admitted to the National Centre for Combating Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia has fared well amid the pandemic, which has claimed at least 2.41 million lives across the world, confirming just 482 cases with 469 recoveries and no deaths.
Some 89 cases have been confirmed in recent months from 35,665 migrant workers returning from Thailand into Cambodia. Of them 11,857 workers were in quarantine centers at seven provinces near the Cambodian-Thai border.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, the United Kingdom identified a variant called B.1.1.7 with a large number of mutations in 2020.
In January, UK scientists reported this variant might be associated with an increased risk of death compared to other variant viruses, but they said more studies were needed to confirm their findings.
The emergence of the variant was reported as Hun Sen ordered stricter measures to ensure people adhered to quarantine restrictions, including stronger checks at borders, and ordered officials to implement legal measures against those who fail to comply.
“If we still allow migrant workers to cross illegally to avoid doing quarantine and to escape border patrol forces, there will be more serious incidents,” he said.
One man was recently injured when he stepped on a landmine while crossing the Cambodian-Thai border illegally in an attempt to avoid quarantine. Parts of Cambodia remain heavily mined, the legacy of a 30-year war which ended in 1998.
The ministry also called on citizens to practice preventive health measures as laid out by officials, including washing hands and wearing masks, while practicing social distancing.