Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

COVID-19 spreads among workers in Svay Rieng factories

Garment workers at their lunch break outside a factory where workers recently tested positive for COVID-19, in Phnom Penh, May 24, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Garment workers at their lunch break outside a factory where workers recently tested positive for COVID-19, in Phnom Penh, May 24, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

More than 100 garment workers in Svay Rieng have tested positive for COVID-19, raising concerns from unionists about insufficient safety measures in Cambodia’s garment factories.

Over the past three weeks, the virus has been recorded among workers in Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu, Kampong Chhnang, and Takeo provinces, in spite of new regulations on factory safety.

Svay Rieng provincial health department director Keo Ratha said that two factories located in the Shandong Sunshell Special Economic Zone have detected coronavirus among 105 workers who tested positive on Saturday and Sunday.

He said that Youli International (Cambodia) Garment suspended operations following the test. Among its 900 workers, 104 contracted COVID-19.

“We are now locking down the factory and quarantining about 800 workers inside the factory,” Ratha said.

He said that a preliminary investigation found the likely source of outbreak was via a garment worker who became infected by her husband, who transports vegetables between Phnom Penh-Svay Rieng province.

“We are worried [about more spreading infection] because workers are living with family members,” he said. “Physicians and relevant authorities are rushing to find each person who has had contact with workers who have tested positive and we are continuing more research other factories at the Special Economic Zone.”

Ou Sokhoeun, the provincial labor department director, could not be reached for comment.

On Sunday, 19 workers at Trax Apparel (Cambodia) in Phnom Penh tested positive for COVID-19. Tann Narin, Toek Thla commune chief, said they are carrying out contact tracing.

“The infection might be because they were travelling around or going to the markets,” he said, adding that factory is still operating because the situation is under control and following the Health Ministry’s safety measures.

“We are collecting more samples of workers at their rental houses,” he said.

Trax Apparel (Cambodia) Company produces sportswear for several major brands including Adidas, NB, and Puma and has 1,500 workers, according to its website.

Heng Sour, spokesman for the Labor Ministry, could be not reached for comment, but government spokesman Phay Siphan said there all provinces are following the same healthy and safety measures including widespread testing and tracing following any positive cases.

“The same measures as we had done in Phnom Penh and Takhmao by blocking the site,” he said.

“It is really affecting [the economy] related to the closure, a priority is workers’ lives,” Siphan said.

Last week, the Labor Inspection Department issued a letter to owners and directors of factories and enterprises asking them to prepare updated lists of workers who are entitled to cash assistance after the large-scale lockdowns of Phnom Penh, Takhmao City, and Sihanoukville. The list is to be sent to the ministry by Thursday, though the letter didn’t specify how much money workers would receive.

Pav Sina, president of Collective Unions of Movement of Worker, has requested the government reconsider an inter-province travel ban to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We saw the measure to ban travelling between provinces is the best way to prevent the spread of the virus,” he said.

After the lifting of the ban, he said, infections grew in the provinces, especially among garment workers.

“The government should reconsider a [travel] lockdown or some new measure to prevent the infection, and not make it worse,” Sina said.

He said factories should shut down entirely after cases have been detected, rather than only shut down sections.

“We are still seeing the challenging issue even though they have closed some sections individually because workers still share tight transport, and share the same entrance into the factories,” he said.

Kong Athith, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), urged the health ministry to rush the vaccination to garment workers.

“We request the government should rush vaccine to workers in the provinces — that is a priority issue,” he said. Health officials have carried out a widespread campaign to vaccinate all workers in Phnom Penh, Kandal, and Preah Sihanouk, with workers in other provinces to be targeted next.

He also encouraged employers to support workers while they are quarantining or being treated for COVID-19.

However, he said he supported the authorities efforts to close only the parts of factories where the virus had been detected. “Closing the whole factory has greatly impacted the economy,” he said.

Meanwhile in Kampong Speu, provincial Governor Vei Samnang told CamboJA on Monday that the Wah Sun KH factory is in a stable situation after about 30 workers tested positive on May 5.

The facility employs more than 3,000 people. Thus far, that factory has had the largest COVID-19 outbreak of the province’s 153 manufacturers.

Besides Wah Sun KH, authorities temporarily closed some sections of 11 other factories after finding cases of COVID-19 there.

The Ministry of Health reported 556 new cases of COIVD-19 on Monday, bringing the total count to 25,761 since the pandemic began in early 2020. The large majority of these cases have been recorded since February 20 — when the ongoing community outbreak began. The ministry has also recorded 18,359 recovered cases and 179 deaths from the virus.

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