Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Delta variant spreads to community as imported cases rise among returning migrant workers

Both local villagers and migrant workers who have returned from Thailand being treated at a high school in Battambang city on July 27, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Both local villagers and migrant workers who have returned from Thailand being treated at a high school in Battambang city on July 27, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

The Ministry of Health is urging the public to be vigilant as it continues to detect community transmission cases of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.

Most cases of infection by the Delta variant, which is thought to be as much as 15 times more contagious than the original strain of the novel coronavirus, have been found among Cambodian migrant workers returning from Thailand. A Health Ministry statement released Tuesday announced 21 of 39 newly confirmed cases of Delta infection had been found among returnees, who are screened for COVID-19 and quarantined in facilities along the border.

However, it is the remaining cases, which were found among non-returnees, that prompted the latest warning from the Health Ministry. Since the ministry first detected Cambodian instances of Delta variant infection on March 31, its officials have logged 114 confirmed cases, most of which were caught early on the border.

But now, with at least some of Tuesday’s cases appearing in the central province of Kampong Thom, it appears the new viral strain has made inroads deeper into the country.

Dr. Li Ailan, the WHO representative to Cambodia, told CamboJA the global health organization is “highly concerned” about the prospect of a wider Delta outbreak.

“Once the Delta variant is widely circulating in the community, it would be very difficult to suppress it as the speed of the virus spread would be very fast,” she wrote in an email. “We are racing against the Delta variant. We must act today, so there are no regrets tomorrow. Everyone must act faster with a greater sense of urgency.”

The WHO representative added the most important priorities right now should be applying targeted non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as social distancing, and getting all vulnerable people fully vaccinated.

Provincial leaders also told CamboJA that residents should act with urgency to prevent the continued spread of the new variant. Kampong Thom Governor Sok Lou implored people to follow the guidelines of the Health Ministry and confirmed three cases of the Delta variant had been found among community members of the province’s Prasat Balaing district.

Those individuals are now in quarantine, he said, and officials have tracked about 30 additional people who had been in contact with the people infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19. Those contacts have since been placed in quarantine.

“The situation is under control, and we are continuing to find more people who have contacted us,” he said.

Pen Kosal, governor of the border province of Oddar Meanchey, said treatment centers in his province are now full due to the continued return of migrant workers, some of whom have been infected with COVID-19. Kosal said some patients have been transferred to facilities in Pailin province.

“We are implementing the Health Ministry’s instructions to check all the people who cross land borders by checking temperature, spraying alcohol and doing a rapid test to detect who is positive or negative for COVID-19,” he said.

Soum Chankea, the Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator of the rights group ADHOC, said he was concerned about the challenges to contain the more-contagious strain of the novel coronavirus, especially when local people are already struggling with finding a stable income amidst the economic slowdown.

“To solve this problem besides a lockdown, the government should release more budget to support them because they cannot stay home without food,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported 685 new cases of COVID-19 including 262 that were imported, bringing the total count to 74,386 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 in Cambodia. The ministry has also recorded 66,725 recovered cases and 1,324 deaths from the virus.

In response to the increasing prevalence of the Delta variant, Health Minister Mam Bun Heng on Tuesday permitted private pharmaceutical firms to request the import of COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved by the WHO.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine did not comment.