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Health ministry calls on private sector to carry out frequent rapid tests

Health officials use rapid test kits to test residents in Phnom Penh, for COVID-19, August 11, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpan
Health officials use rapid test kits to test residents in Phnom Penh, for COVID-19, August 11, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpan

Cambodia’s Health Ministry has instructed all state institutions, private companies, factories and other organizations to frequently carry out rapid tests for all staff and employees as the country continues to record hundreds of new cases every day. The announcement did not provide a specific definition of what constitutes an organization.

According to a letter of instruction released by the ministry, the rapid test kits will be supplied by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications at a lower cost.

The Ministry will continue to sell the kits for another two months before authorizing a private company as a distributor. The ministry urged private hospitals to charge lower prices for rapid tests.

The new instruction orders authorities to set up testing posts at the commune and district level to provide rapid tests for people who cannot afford the kits. Areas currently under lockdown as a result of outbreaks should be tested using a PCR machine by health staff.

Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine could not be reached for comment on whether the instructions would be legally binding.

While Cambodian Alliance of Trade Union (CATU) president Yang Sophorn welcomed the ministry’s announcement, she said it may be hard for factory owners to purchase tests for hundreds or even thousands of workers.

“It is good for workers to have a rapid test, but it may not be easy because we do not know yet if the company would cover the cost — because there are a lot of workers in each factory,” she said.

Sophorn also expressed concern that the rapid test results may not be fully accurate.

“Previously, workers were worried about the tests, they are worried that the rapid test is inaccurate,” she said. “They are worried that when they just have a cold, the test will show them as positive for COVID-19, so they are afraid of being placed in a 14-day quarantine that affects the whole family.”

Some government ministries and institutions as well as a number of private enterprises have already been carrying out rapid tests on staff.

Heng Sengly, Managing  Director of Park Cafe, said that the company has already carried out weekly rapid tests on office staff and will soon implement them for all staff working at their restaurants across Phnom Penh and in the provinces.

“It could be an added cost for the company to buy the kits, but we need to join the government for a long term vision, because the private sector is the government’s partner to stop COVID-19,” he said. 

Sengly said that all new staff recruited by the company must be fully vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine.

The ministry’s instruction applies to all cities and provinces across the country.

Kampong Speu governor Vei Samnang said that he understood that the instruction is not enforced by law, and that provincial authorities would not be forcing the private sector.

“However, we will inform them about how to prevent and protect from COVID-19,” he said. “We also suggest that clinics and hospitals join with the government’s instruction to protect against COVID-19 together, because when it’s expensive, some people will escape because they don’t have enough to pay.”

Health officials said the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has begun rapidly spreading in the country after a series of outbreaks in provinces bordering Thailand, causing the government to impose lockdown measures on eight provinces along the Thai border to stop the spread of the virus. On August 11, the health ministry announced that it had found 44 cases of the Delta variant across nine provinces, bringing the total number of cases to 429.

The ministry announced on Wednesday the expansion of a third “booster” dose of AstraZeneca to national and sub-national civil servants and journalists who have been fully vaccinated with the Chinese Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines.

Koch Yuth, a garment worker in Phnom Penh, said that his factory carries out tests only for newly recruited workers.

He said since the factory reopened after having closed for a month during April and May, he and other workers at the factory have not been tested.

“I live in a rented room in front of the factory, I have already been vaccinated and I don’t go anywhere,” he said. “I think it would be good if the factory could carry out the rapid test because there are many workers riding together in a truck and we do not know who is positive or not.”

Cambodia has so far vaccinated more than 8 million people with at least one dose of the vaccine, and is now vaccinating children aged between 12 and 17.

On Wednesday, Cambodia reported 486 new cases of COVID-19 including 119 imported cases and 12 deaths, bringing the total count to 83,384 and 1,614 deaths. The ministry has also recorded 77,754 recovered cases. 

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