Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Hun Sen negative for Covid-19 after meeting with infected Hungarian minister

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto meets with Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on November 3 in Prime Minister's Facebook.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto meets with Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on November 3 in Prime Minister's Facebook.

Prime Minister Hun Sen tested negative for Covid-19 a day after he met with the Hungarian foreign minister, who had tested positive for the virus upon arriving in Thailand just hours after attending a signing ceremony with high level officials in Phnom Penh.

In an official Facebook post on November 4, Hun Sen said his family and others who he had been in contact with had tested negative.

“At my house, my wife and I, and our bodyguards and drivers, totaling 18 people, have received negative test results for Covid-19,” he said.

“However, even though I am not infected with Covid-19, for safety reasons as required by doctors, I will stay in quarantine for 14 days and will not meet with my wife and grandchildren,” he wrote.

He added that he would cancel his attendance at all other events, including Independence Day celebrations on November 9 and a planned visit to meet with flood victims in Pursat, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn and other senior officials were also tested forCovid-19 and told to quarantine after Hungarian Foreign Affairs and TradeMinister Peter Szijjarto tested positive for Covid-19 upon arriving in Bangkok in the evening on November 3.

According to a press release from the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry, Szijjarto led a delegation in a one-day official visit to Cambodia on November 3, during which he visited the Peace Palace and the National Bank’s Museum of Economy and Money.

“Immediately after receiving the above information, the Royal Government of Cambodia decided that all leaders and officials who met and communicated directly with the delegation during the visit to be tested for Covid-19 virus and quarantine in line with the Ministry of Health’s guidelines,” it said.

A video posted on Hun Sen’s Facebook page shows Szijjarto shaking hands with Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon, Water Resource Minister Lim Kean Hor, and Minister in Charge of Civil Aviation Mao Havannal, most of whom were not wearing masks. The prime minister was presiding over the signing ceremony, at which three memorandums were signed. 

The Foreign Affairs Ministry’s statement also said that all members of the Hungarian delegation had health certificates showing that they had tested negative for Covid-19 before departing their home country for Cambodia.

Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said through his personal Telegram on November 4 that after receiving information about Szijjarto’s positive test, Sokhonn had asked doctors to test anyone at the ministry who may have been in contact with him.

“Deputy Prime Minister Prak Sokhonn has invited expert doctors to test relevant officials [at the ministry] who had visited with the Hungarian foreign affairs and trade minister, and we will implement the Health Ministry’s advice,” Kuong said.

According to Hungarian news agency MTI on November 4, the chief press officer for Hungary’s foreign ministry confirmed that Szijjarto tested positive for the virus, but said that he had tested negative before departing for his Asian tour last month.

In comments after the signing ceremonyon November 3, Sokhonn said the visit by Szijjarto amid a raging pandemic and accompanying socio-economic challenges reflected Hungary’s strong commitment to strengthening ties with Cambodia.

“Minister Peter Szijjarto and I have just concluded a very fruitful discussion,” Sokhonn said in an official message sent by the ministry. “Both of us are pleased with the strong ties of friendship and growing cooperation over the years.”

Sakhon, minister of Agriculture said November 4, that he had not takena Covid-19 test because he is currently in Pursat province, but that he is concerned about possible infection because he had shaken hands with Szijjarto during the signing ceremony.

“I believe that the head of the government will take measure regarding this case,” Sakhon said.

He said that all relevant Cambodian officials who had met with Szijjarto should be sent for a Covid-19 test if they have symptoms.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said he had seen the Hungarian news article saying that Szijjarto had tested positive for the Coronavirus, but that it did not mean he had contracted the virus in Cambodia. 

He also claimed that all Covid-19 patients had come from foreign countries, and said Cambodia had zero recorded deaths from Covid-19 before referring further questions to the Health Ministry.

Havannal, the Minister in Charge of Civil Aviation, declined to comment.

Neither Health Minister Mam Bunheng nor any of the ministry’s spokespeople could not be reached on November 4.

Chea Serey, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia, posted on her official Facebook account on November 4 that she had also been in close contact with Szijjarto when he visited the National Bank’s Museum of Economy and Money.

“It is really unfortunate news, and I hope he and his family will recover soon,” Serey said. “As far as I am concerned, my children and I have been tested and are waiting for the results.”

“In the meantime, my entire household will stay in quarantine starting this afternoon (as soon as we found out) until we no longer pose a risk to public health,” the post continued.

Serey added that National Bank and museum staff who had been in contact with Szijjarto were also asked to quarantine to ensure the safety of their family and the public.

According to a report from the Health Ministry on November 2, a total of 292 confirmed cases in Cambodia include 182 Cambodians, 45 French, 18 Chinese, 13 Malaysians, 9 Indonesians, 7 Americans, 6 British, 3 Vietnamese, 3 Canadian, 1 Belgian, 2 Indian, 1 Kazakhstani, 1 Hungarian, and 1 Polish national. The nine active cases include six Cambodians, one Polish national, and two French nationals.

The latest positive case, recorded November 1, is a 31-year-old Cambodian female from Kratie province who tested positive after returning from Japan via Seoul.

She had arrived in the country on October 19 and the positive test was carried out on the 13th day of her mandatory 14-day quarantine, according to the ministry.