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Cambodia cracks down after Covid-19 outbreak

Hun Sen announces lockdown and asks people to stay home but not panic

Cambodia cracks down after Covid-19 outbreak

Buddhist monks walk in the compound of the Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap, where face masks are being distributed after a community outbreak of Covid-19. (Photo: AFP)

Cambodia has stepped up its tough measures to counter its first community outbreak of Covid-19 by asking people to remain at home as the health ministry announced another four people have tested positive for the potentially deadly disease.

New measures were announced after Prime Minister Hun Sen distributed two million face masks in the worst suspected areas of Phnom Penh and the northwest provincial city of Siem Reap.

“We need temporary closure for a short period,” Hun Sen said. “I ask our people not to panic, but they must improve their individual protection from the virus.”

He said people must follow the health ministry’s instructions and seek consultations with doctors if they suspect they have contracted the coronavirus.

Unless engaged in essential business, the public have been directed to stay at home. All universities and schools, public and private, have closed at least until Dec. 16.

Commune administrative officials have been ordered to suspend all unnecessary gatherings and meetings including weddings, religious events, parties, sports and group exercise. Any gathering deemed essential is to be limited to 20 people.

Businesses including karaoke, cinemas, clubs, bars, spas, massage facilities and gyms/fitness centers have closed. Malls and skyscrapers where outbreaks have occurred have also closed.

Cambodia had emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic and even now the numbers of confirmed cases remain relatively small compared with elsewhere. To date, Cambodia has confirmed 335 Covid-19 cases with 304 recoveries and no deaths.

But seasonally cooler weather amid the outbreak, which follows a diplomatic visit by the Hungarian foreign minister, has rung alarm bells.

An outbreak occurred at the Aeon-1 City Mall and has been traced to the wife of this country’s director-general of prisons Chhem Savuth, who was shopping there on Nov. 28.

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Chhem Suvuth also attended a meeting on Nov. 24, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, along with 11 other senior officials who have entered self-isolation.

Many of Cambodia’s senior elites met with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, who tested positive in Bangkok after leaving Phnom Penh in early November.

Prior to this first community outbreak, all confirmed cases in Cambodia had been among people arriving from overseas by flight or ship.

The health ministry said that as of Dec. 3 at least 9,793 people from Phnom Penh and seven provinces have been tested in connection to the community outbreak, with 23 confirmed cases.

Newly infected patients include a 39-year-old husband, a 32-year-old wife and a 3-year-old son, relatives of a 23-year-old man who tested positive on Dec. 2. Another patient is a 22-year-old man who worked in an upmarket shoe shop visited by the wife.

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