Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

More than 600 people, including journalists, test negative for Covid-19

Photographers and cameramen surround Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Szijjarto at the opening of the Hungarian Embassy office in Phnom Penh on November 3. Panha Chhorpoan
Photographers and cameramen surround Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Szijjarto at the opening of the Hungarian Embassy office in Phnom Penh on November 3. Panha Chhorpoan

More than 600 people, including dozens of journalists who covered the state visit of the Covid-19 positive Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister on November 3, had received negative test results for the virus by November 4, as others are still awaiting results.

Many journalists confirmed November 5 that they had begun a 14-day quarantine after they covered the one-day official visit of Hungarian Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto, during which he met with Cambodian government leaders at the Peace Palace and visited the National Bank and its adjacent Museum of Economy and Money. The minister tested positive for the virus on the evening of November 3 upon arriving in Thailand.

A local journalist who gave his name as Vuthy who covered the meetings and signing ceremony between Szijjarto’s delegation and Prime Minister Hun Sen and other ministers, said that he and three of his colleagues who had interviewed and posed for photos with the Hungarian dignitary had all tested negative for the Coronavirus.

“I tested negative for Covid-19, and the Health Ministry doctors asked me to quarantine for 14 days, so I am quarantining in my home,” Vuthy said, adding that his wife and children would be staying separately with their neighbor for the duration.

His wife and children did not get tested yet because the Health Ministry had told him that if he did not have symptoms, he could not infect others. He said he and other journalists who had encountered Szijjarto had been told to contact doctors immediately if they experienced any symptoms.

“Our team wore masks when we interviewed the Hungarian foreign affairs and trade minister, but we took off our masks when we took photos with him,” Vuthy said.

According to a statement from the Health Ministry on November 5, after receiving the information that Szijjarto was Covid-19 positive, the ministry had been testing those who had come in contact with him and had passed the tests on to the Pasteur Institute.

“As of 11pm on November 4, a total of 628 people have been tested by the Pasteur Institute and have received negative results for Covid-19,” the statement said. “The ministry is studying this, and they will inform the public when they have received and analyzed more samples.”

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.

Another journalist who gave his name as Samon, and who also covered the event, said that he had been tested in the morning of November 5.

“I went to take a test at the Health Ministry without paying a fee, but I have not received the result yet,” Samon said.

He said that he had been among more than 20 journalists covering the meeting between Szijjarto and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn, but that he did not know how many journalists had covered the subsequent meeting between the Hungarian minister and Hun Sen.

Samon added that he is not concerned about having contracted Covid-19 from Szijjarto.

“I am not concerned because I did not touch directly with the Hungarian foreign affairs and trade minister, but my family is concerned about my safety,” Samon said. “I stood about 3 to 4 meters away from him.”

Ith Sothoeuth, media director at the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said that at present, journalists should be aware that Covid-19 is still active, and should take precautions and follow the directions of the Health Ministry and WHO.

He said he had heard that the journalists who had attended the meeting had been tested by the Health Ministry and were now in a required 14-day quarantine.

“I think that the government should support them and their families while they stay in quarantine for 14 days,” Sothoeuth said.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the People Center for Development, said that Covid-19 still poses a threat everywhere in the world, and that Szijjarto had traveled from an area of high risk. 

“We regret that our officials could not do enough based on the World Health Organization’s advice to prevent this level of concern,” Kim Eng said.

He added that the Cambodian government should use this as a lesson for the future because it shows that government officials and average people are both at risk if they do not adhere to social distancing rules.

“If the cases of Covid-19 increase, it will have a serious effect on Cambodia,” Kim Eng said.

Information Ministry spokesman Meas Sophorn confirmed that there were journalists among the 628 people who came into contact with Szijjarto, and he called upon all journalists to remain professional and to respect the Health Ministry’s Covid-19 advice.

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.

On November 5, the Ministry of Foreign Affair issued its own statement saying that all leaders and officials at the ministry had received negative test results for Covid-19 and would also remain in self-quarantine for 14 days.

In a statement the previous day, the ministry noted that the members of the Hungarian delegation all had health certificates showing that they had tested negative for Covid-19 before departing their home country for Cambodia.