Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

New cluster of 32 Covid cases in Phnom Penh after Chinese escape from Quarantine

Authorities block bridges to Koh Pich Island in Phnom Penh on Saturday, February 20, following the discovery of 32 new cases of Covid-19 in Phnom Penh. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Authorities block bridges to Koh Pich Island in Phnom Penh on Saturday, February 20, following the discovery of 32 new cases of Covid-19 in Phnom Penh. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the closure of some nightclubs, condominiums and streets around Koh Pich after a new spike of 32 cases of Covid-19 was traced back to four Chinese women who allegedly paid security guards for permission to leave their quarantine hotel in Phnom Penh.

Via Facebook livestream on Saturday, the prime minister called for calm after identifying the 32 cases, including the four who allegedly bribed security guards to go free, as Chinese nationals.

 “[I] appeal [to people to] not discriminate against Chinese people,” Mr. Hun Sen said of the “February 20 Community Event.”

 “[In] only 10 hours, we have found large scale community infection of 32 cases,” he said.

The outbreak marks the third community transmission in Cambodia and takes the tally of cases to 516, with no deaths and less than 50 active cases.

Mr. Hun Sen said that contact tracing began after a Chinese woman tested positive while seeking a health certificate to fly out of Cambodia. She had allegedly visited N8 club, which has been identified as a hub for the latest cluster, he said.

The government is finalizing a new sub-decree to punish those who evade quarantine, with fines to be raised from a maximum of $250 to $1,250, while anyone who helps them can be fined from $2,500 to $12,500.

The sub-decree, which will be finalized Thursday, follows the arrest and detention of a district police chief in Battambang province accused of smuggling migrant workers past quarantine facilities and across the border, where a cluster of 89 cases have been found since a wave of migrants began returning from Thailand in December. 

Hun Sen ordered authorities to block the N8 entertainment club, some business areas, apartment blocks and other areas at high risk of infection around Koh Pich.

However, weddings would be allowed to proceed and schools would remain open, he said, reminding the public to be vigilant, maintain social distancing and always wear a mask.

It is unclear which strain of Covid-19 the 32 have been infected with.

Authorities block the path of a Chinese man attempting to leave Koh Pich on Saturday. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

On Monday, the new strain of the virus that scientists say is more contagious and more resistant to vaccinations was found on three foreigners – two Indians and one Chinese – who entered Cambodia earlier this month, the Health Ministry said.

A total of 5,741 people have been vaccinated for the virus in Cambodia since the first shipment of 600,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine arrived by donation from China, with 1,132 people turned away due to existing health issues, the Health Ministry said on Friday.

Yong Kim Eng, President of the People Centre for Development Peace, expressed concern at the high risk of the virus spreading after Cambodia had been relatively unscathed by the pandemic compared with neighboring countries.  

“It is a very big concern because we do not know where they have been, so authorities have to be thorough in preventing the spread,” he said. “Relevant authorities must respond, especially by punishing hotel security who allowed them out.”

Or Vandine, spokeswoman at Health Ministry, could not be reached for comment