Authorities on alert for coronavirus spreading in rural provinces amid migrants’ return4 min read

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A man on a motorbike plays a message through a loudspeaker to educate people in Phnom Penh about preventing the spread of coronavirus, on March 25, 2020. Panha Chhorpoan
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Authorities are disseminating coronavirus warnings across the countryside and say they are prepared to quarantine entire villages as tens of thousands of migrant workers return from Thailand.

About 40,000 Cambodians have so far returned ahead of Khmer New Year as coronavirus shutdowns hit industries across the border, according to Interior Minister Sar Kheng. Thailand has declared a state of emergency and is closing border crossings due to the virus.

Kheng, speaking at Phnom Penh International Airport on Tuesday, said homes would be put on lockdown if migrant workers tested positive for coronavirus, and entire villages could be placed under quarantine if there are several cases.

The flood of returnees in recent weeks made the situation hard to control, Kheng added.

“Our problem is that when they all come at the same time like this, we cannot control their health and we do not have the ability to quarantine them for 14 days,” Kheng said. Authorities will instead collect their home addresses and send this information to provincial officers to monitor the returnees, who should self-isolate for 14 days.

“Don’t touch the people who come from Thailand or Malaysia, and we should stay 2 meters away from them,” he said. “They come because Thailand has closed some construction sites, KTVs, hotels, so no people are staying and restaurants have no customers, some shops are also closing … They do not have work there.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday appealed to people to stay home unless necessary, and said he was considering declaring a state of emergency in the country.

There were more than 20,000 health officials across the country working, but only 2,000 doctors who are experts against with infection disease, Hun Sen said. Hotels, schools, and training centers were being prepared as treatment centers, he added.

“We have more than 3,000 rooms prepared across the country,” he said. Media and local officials are helping to disseminate information about the virus across the country, he said.

In Banteay Meanchey, provincial health department director Keo Sopheaktra said local officials were monitoring returnees and testing those suspected of having coronavirus. Out of 80 tests, two have so far tested positive, he said.

“Local authorities must monitor them every day,” Sopheaktra said. “If any of them have a health problem and are suspected of being infected with Covid-19, they must bring their sample to be tested at the Pasteur Institute and bring them to stay at the provincial referral hospital or another location.”

In Battambang province, governor Nguon Ratanak said about 6,000 migrant workers who had returned to the province in recent days were being monitored.

“We’ve educated them and asked them to self-isolate for 14 days at the houses, and our officials monitor them,” Ratanak said.

Tuk-tuks and motorbikes with loudspeakers were disseminating information and advice across the province, he said. “We’ve reserved a hotel with 150 rooms to treat Covid-19 patients,” he added.

Kem Phearun, a migrant worker who had a job at a factory in Bangkok, said he returned to Cambodia by air on March 23.

He wanted to be home for Khmer New Year and was also worried about the spread of coronavirus in Bangkok, he said.

“When I arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport, the officers asked me and my friends for our address,” Phearun said. He and his friends have a rented room in Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao commune, and they have been staying there for the 14-day quarantine period.

Health officials have visited them every day, he said.

“They told me that if I have a problem with my health or flu-like symptoms, inform them immediately,” Phearun said.

He said he supported the actions and hoped that all returning migrant workers would be cooperative. “I don’t want to spread this disease to my family and other people if I were found to have Covid-19.”

According to the Health Ministry, the total number of coronavirus cases in the country has risen to 98.

No.City/ProvinceTotal caseRecoverdDeaths
1Preah Sihanouk3610
2Kampong Cham1410
3Phnom Penh1330
4Battambang920
5Siem Reap500
6Kep400
7Tbong Khmum430
8Kampong Chhnang300
9Banteay Meanchey200
10Kampot200
11Preah Vihear200
12Koh Kong210
13Kandal200
Total98110

The 98 cases are made up of 38 Cambodians, 36 French, 12 Malaysians, five British, two Americans, two Indonesians, one Chinese, one Canadian and one Belgian and eleven among of them are recovered, the Health Ministry said.

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