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Officials worry about rise in provincial COVID-19 cases after lockdown lifted

People who tested positive for COVID-19 are sent to a treatment center at Toek Thla commune Sen Sok district in Phnom Penh, May 17, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
People who tested positive for COVID-19 are sent to a treatment center at Toek Thla commune Sen Sok district in Phnom Penh, May 17, 2021. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Officials in some provinces say they are tracking larger-than-usual numbers of COVID-19 cases since Phnom Penh’s lockdown was lifted earlier this month, along with an inter-province travel ban.

In Takeo, the provincial administration reported 70 new infections on May 15 and 51 new cases on May 16.

Meas Uy, Takeo provincial administration chief, said cases have been spreading at factories located at the border of Kandal province and Phnom Penh.

“The increasing number of infections is because after Phnom Penh was opened to travel, there were some people from infection areas [red zones] who left the area and infected the people in those locations and the people from those locations work at the factories, so it exploded in the factories,” said Uy.

He said that the provincial administration has created quarantine centers in every commune and ordered local officials to improve monitoring of those who come from Phnom Penh and Takhmao city to check if they have come from red zones and to monitor their health.

“We have to restrict the people who leave from Phnom Penh and Takhmao city whether they come from the red zones or other zones,” Uy said, adding that when travelers arrive from Phnom Penh they must report to the authorities if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or are suspected to have been in contact with someone who is ill. They will then be sent for tests and quarantine.

In Takeo, more than 1000 people are in quarantine.

“Most people who have been infected COVID-19 come from three districts: Prey Kakbas, Samrong, and Bati,” said Uy.

He appealed to those who come from red zones in Phnom Penh — from which travel is banned — to please be tested immediately on arrival.

“Even though they are locked down and banned, they still can leave,” said Uy.

On May 5, the government lifted citywide lockdowns of Phnom Penh and Takhmao City but continued smaller targeted lockdowns of any red zones with high rates of COVID-19 infections. While those living in red zones aren’t allowed to leave their homes, Uy and others say they have been tracing new infections to those traveling from red zones.

Uy said that more than 200 people have been infected since the February 20 community event outbreak, and five have died.

In Prey Veng, Chan Tha, deputy provincial governor said that there were a total of 182 cases of COVID-19 since the event, including 101 recoveries and three deaths.

“According to the latest COVID-19 situation in Prey Veng province, the people who tested positive came from Phnom Penh after May 6,” Tha said, adding that more than 20 people had tested positive upon arrival since then. “They left from red zones, dark yellow zones, and yellow zones in Phnom Penh to visit their hometown.”

He said that Prey Veng provincial authorities and local authorities have been asking those coming from Phnom Penh and other provinces to be monitored on arrival, and quarantined if they test positive.

“We can control them…. because when they arrived in the province, we monitored them and the number who tested positive for COVID-19 is small, if we compare with thousands of people who arrived,” said Tha.

Tha said that local families have cooperated with the authorities, reporting when a relative visits from out of town so that authorities can check on them. If they have symptoms, or if they come from red zones, they are tested immediately.

On Sunday, the provincial administration reported eight new infections, on Saturday they reported six, and on Friday, three.

Kim Sourphirun, director of the Kampong Cham provincial health department said there have been a total of 215 cases of COVID-19 since February 20, with 106 recoveries and two deaths.

He said that they have tracked cases since the lockdowns lifted, but don’t keep separate figures from before and after May 5.

Keut Chhe, deputy Phnom Penh governor said authorities have been strictly enforcing lockdowns of the red zones and have arrested more than 100 people, including taxi drivers, for traveling from a red zone. All are currently being quarantined. 

“We have tightened the most in the red zones,” said Chhe, adding that police have been guarding roads and he doesn’t know how people have been slipping out.

He said that if any provincial authorities had evidence that people had arrived from red zones they should charge them for violating the health measures.

Chhe added that Phnom Penh authorities have distributed nearly 500,000 packages of food for people living in the red zones and for poor people.

Yong Kim Eng, president of the NGO People’s Centre for Development and Peace, said the provincial authorities must monitor new arrivals closely

“The authority must try to control the people who just arrived at their hometown, if they have any suspects, they have to bring their samples to test on time so it will reduce the COVID-19 spread a lot,” said Kim Eng.

But he added that the Phnom Penh government should do more to test and trace in red zones, in order to bring infections under control and minimize their size as people are desperate to leave. Some red zone areas have been under lockdown since April 10.

The Ministry of Health reported 360 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total case count to 22,544 since the pandemic began in 2020. The ministry has recorded 13,006 recovered cases and 154 deaths.

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