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Cambodia registers its first COVID-19 death, senior official sounds the alarm

The Cambodian man, who was being treated at Chak Angre Leu health center, was moved to the Khmer Soviet Hospital this week after his condition deteriorated. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
The Cambodian man, who was being treated at Chak Angre Leu health center, was moved to the Khmer Soviet Hospital this week after his condition deteriorated. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

After Cambodia reported its first COVID-19 death on Thursday, Health Ministry Spokesperson Or Vandine described Cambodia’s COVID-19 situation as “alarming” especially because of the presence of the fast-spreading, more deadly, UK variant of the virus.

The Ministry of Health announced on Thursday that a 50-year-old man had died from the disease at the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital, marking Cambodia’s first reported death since the start of the outbreak in January 2020.

The Cambodian worked for a foreign national, who was also positive for the disease and lives in Preah Sihanouk province.

“A Cambodian man, 50, died from COVID-19 at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital and is the first death in Cambodia,” the Health Ministry statement reads from Thursday morning.

Speaking to Bayon TV, which is owned by Hun Sen’s daughter Hun Mana, the Health Ministry’s Or Vandine said the man was first being treated at the Chak Angre Leu health center before being transferred to the Khmer Soviet Hospital after his conditions deteriorated on March 5. Vandine explained that the disease had affected the patient’s lungs.

“We are sorrow that the [physicians] could not save him because the COVID-19 virus attacked very fast and his body could not control it and it attacked his lungs,” Vandine said.

Vandine said patients who are currently in the hospital were exhibiting more serious symptoms from the disease, and urged people in the country to be vigilant. She said the UK variant of the virus was currently spreading through Phnom Penh.

“We are very concerned about the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said to BTV. “We are alarmed by the situation of COVID-19,” she said.

A study published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday revealed that the UK variant of the novel coronavirus spread more rapidly and was between 30 to 100 percent deadlier than previous strains.

Cambodia has so far recorded 1,163 cases of COVID-19, since its first case in January 2020, of which 625 are from the recent community transmission cluster.

Met Measpheakdey, a spokesperson for Phnom Penh City Hall, declined to comment and referred questions to the Ministry of Health. Ngy Meanheng, head of the Phnom Municipal Health Department, could not be reached for comment.

Li Ailan, head of the World Health Organization’s Cambodia office, did not respond to a request for comment.

Government Spokesperson Phay Siphan said the administration was working to control the transmission of COVID-19 in Cambodia and encouraged people to get vaccinated.

“We are concerned since this disease arrived in Cambodia,” he said.

The government has begun vaccinating people with the Sinopharm and Indian-produced AstraZeneca vaccines. Cambodia received 324,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 600,000 doses of Sinopharm, with 400,000 more doses expected to arrive soon.

Thursday’s death comes as Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the construction of crematoriums in the event of a COVID-19 death. Recently, a COVID-19-positive Chinese man died at the Phnom Penh Quarantine Center but health officials said the death was linked to drug use complications.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday evening released another audio recording announcing that two more hotels will be converted to treat COVID-19 patients and that around 300 military doctors would now aid their civilian counterparts to treat patients.

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