Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Ministry says peacekeeper with Covid-19 had no community interaction

A woman and a girl wear masks as they walk near the roundabout in Takhmao City on August 10. Panha Chhorpoan

A female Cambodian peacekeeper who returned from a United Nations mission to Mali in July tested positive for Covid-19 on August 8but has not been in recent contact with anyone outside of her family in Takhmao City, according to the Health Ministry.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine gave an interview to television station BTVon August 10 refuting social media rumors sparked by comments from the chief of Sitbou Commune, where the woman lives, saying she had been in contact with members of her community outside her family.

Vandine said the woman had been tested for Covid-19 five times since returning from Mali with a group of 80 peacekeepers, eight of whom had previously tested positive, and that only her two brothers and parents have had contact with her since she returned to Takhmao. The peacekeepers had been in quarantine at a military base in Kampong Speu province for more than two weeks, and were not released until all 80 had tested negative, she said.

“She used a mask when she caught a cold but the problem was they were sharing the same bathroom as her,” she said. “We took four samples [from the family] to be tested immediately.”

Her two siblings and parents who she has been staying with have now also begun to quarantine although their test results had come back negative, she added.

“Now the samples show that they are negative, but they continue to be monitored and we are following their health and have put them in quarantine”, she said. “Her direct contact was with four people until the day that she got the test that she is Covid-19 positive.”

Sitbou Commune Chief Oum Leng said on August 10 in aletter to Takhmao City Governor Nou Sovannara that when the woman arrived home on July 30, she had met with elderly people, gave money to children and offered food to monks at the pagoda. She later displayed symptoms of Covid-19 and took two tests at Chey Chumneas Referral Hospital in Takhmao, the second of which came back positive on August 8, Leng said in the letter.

He said in an interview on August 10 that health officials had disinfected the area around the sick woman’s house and said her neighbors are concerned although they had not been in direct contact with her. He declined to comment further.

Vandine said that after the woman tested positive, the ministry called all 71 peacekeepers who had not previously contracted Covid-19 to return to their base to quarantine.

Kandal Provincial Health Department Director Kouy Bun­thoeun said the female peacekeeper had been sent to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, which is treating all positive Covid-19 cases.

“I have tested her and sent her to Russian hospital for treatment but her family members I also have tested are all negative,” he said, adding that the patient had told him she did not mingle with any neighbors in Takhmao, as Leng had suggested.

“I don’t know which information he got it from,” he said. “Now we are working with authority on this case.”

An official at the Chey Chumneas Referral Hospital who requested anonymity due to concerns for their job said that neither officials at the ministry nor from the peacekeeping mission had informed local health officials that one of the peacekeepers would be returning to Takhmao City. 

“When she arrived at home, the ministry did not alert us that we should pay attention” to her case, the employee said. “We thought they should inform the local authorities but there was nothing because she had tested negative three times.” 

The hospital worker said the woman had called the national disease hotline 115 to report that she had a sore throat and headache, and gave her address, after which point the ministry informed the local health department. 

“There was a lack of cooperation and failure to notify us,” the employee said. “ We should have kept an eye on her. When they arrive from abroad [the ministry] should let us know.”

During the peacekeeping mission to Mali, senior officer Major General Sar Savy died of Covid-19 on May 29. The eight others from the mission who contracted the virus tested positive after their return to Cambodia.

According to the Health Ministry, as of August 10 Cambodia has recorded 251 cases of Covid-19 since the first case was registered in late January, with 219 recovered from the virus and zero deaths.