Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (right) welcomes Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto during a meeting at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Nov. 3. Szijjarto later tested positive for Covid-19 in Thailand. (Photo: AFP)
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has gone into a 14-day quarantine after Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto tested positive for the Covid-19 virus after a diplomatic visit to Phnom Penh.
A health ministry official said 628 people, including First Lady Bun Rany and 18 bodyguards, were confirmed as negative following tests in response to his visit, but Hun Sen said he and others would enter quarantine as a precautionary measure.
Cambodia has emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic.
Nearly all cases were among people arriving from outside the country by flight or by ship in the southern port town of Sihanoukville. To date, just 292 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed with 286 recoveries and no deaths.
“After receiving news that Hungarian Foreign and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto tested positive, we rushed to get the tests. As a result, none of us have Covid-19. I will put myself in a 14-day quarantine for everyone’s safety,” Hun Sen said, according to a report by online portal Fresh News.
Hun Sen said he was postponing an opening ceremony for the start of construction on 38 roads in the northwest province of Siem Reap, which had been scheduled for Nov. 16.
He also said he could not take part in a scheduled meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) slated for next week.
“Separately, at my house, I, my wife, a bodyguard, drivers, and those in his household, totaling 18 people, tested for the virus and the results came out negative,” Hun Sen said.
“Even though I do not have Covid-19, for the safety of all, the doctors required me to live separately for 14 days. Not even my wife, children and grandchildren could stay near me.”
Szijjarto was on a whistle-stop regional tour which included Singapore, Cambodia and Thailand. He tested positive in Bangkok shortly after leaving Phnom Penh.
In Cambodia, he met with Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn and said the Hungarian government was ready to serve as “the bridge in cooperation” between the European Union and Cambodia.
Phnom Penh is looking for alternative trade routes into Europe following a 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.
“Hungary's position on the removal of the EBA is another example of a friend who understands the situation in Cambodia and is brave enough to support Cambodia for justice towards a democratic democracy,” Prak Sokhonn said.
The pandemic and the loss of EU trade perks have hurt the Cambodian economy, with the collapse of the tourism industry and the loss of orders in the garment and textiles industry taking a heavy toll on this country’s poor.