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National Assembly lawmakers quarantined, at risk after contact with prisons chief

National Assembly members are being tested for COVID-19 after a lawmaker met with Prisons Department Director Chhem Savuth, who tested positive on November 28.
National Assembly members are being tested for COVID-19 after a lawmaker met with Prisons Department Director Chhem Savuth, who tested positive on November 28.

At least 116 National Assembly members and their families will be in quarantine after lawmaker Loy Sophat met with director general of prisons Chhem Savuth, who tested positive for COVID-19 on November 28.

Senior government ministers and Cambodian People’s Party lawmakers will be tested and quarantined after Savuth met with one of their colleagues, Loy Sophat, who then attended a November 25 session of the National Assembly, said assembly spokesperson Leng Peng Long.

Defense Minister Tea Banh, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, Deputy President Nguon Nhel, Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol and others now join Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Justice Minister Koeut Rith, who were already placed in quarantine for direct contact with Savuth.

Savuth also met with other government officials, Penh Long said, to draft some documents, and that these officials will be in quarantine as well.

“The people who are required to test for COVID-19 are in medium risk of infection,” Peng Long said, adding that around 100 assembly and government officials and citizens would only have to quarantine for 14 days.

“Loy Sophat was tested first and his result was negative,” Peng Long added.

He said it was unclear if lawmakers or officials had since travelled to the provinces and that the assembly will not be closed because a number of officials had zero contact with this cluster.

Chhem Savuth and his family were the first to test positive in the current cluster, dubbed by the government as the “November 28 event”. Savuth’s wife had travelled to Siem Reap and Aeon Mall in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Bassac commune, whereas Savuth had met with senior Interior Ministry officials at a meeting last week, and visited Banteay Meanchey and Prey Sar prison in the capital.

The new cluster has resulted in 4,869 tests so far. The Health Ministry on Tuesday reported three new cases, taking the total number of cases to 17. The new cases include a woman and her baby who live at the same gated community as Savuth and his wife. The third case was the mother of a prison deputy director’s wife, who had also tested positive on Monday.

The Health Ministry on Tuesday said it carried out 2,621 tests on Monday, on top of the more than 2,400 it completed on Sunday.

Hun Many, a lawmaker and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s youngest son, attended the plenary session on November 25 and wrote on Facebook that after being tested on Tuesday morning his results had come back negative.

“Nonetheless, I will have to stay in quarantine and follow on my health during these 14 days,” he said in a Facebook post Tuesday evening.

The Health Ministry also announced three recoveries: the Hungarian ambassador to Cambodian and Vietnam, who tested positive during a visit by Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto last month; a Cambodian peacekeeping official who traveled from South Sudan; and a 27-year-old Cambodian man who traveled from Japan on October 26.

The Peter Szijjarto visit in early November, where he tested positive after finishing a day-long state visit to Cambodia, had caused a similar outbreak, resulting in school closures and mass testing for direct and indirect contacts.

Cambodia has so far registered 326 COVID-19 cases and zero reported deaths. Of the total cases, 22 were active and 304 patients had recovered.

Or Vandine, secretary of state at the Health Ministry, declined to comment on Tuesday because she was busy with a meeting.