Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Siem Reap residents stockpile noodles, canned fish as Hun Sen vows to visit amid coronavirus scare

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Facebook

Siem Reap residents say they are buying up instant noodles, bottled water, canned fish and rice after a Cambodian man tested positive for coronavirus in the city.

Tourism operators and tuk-tuk drivers say they expect to struggle as tourism slumps, and some workers are asking to stay at home to avoid catching the new viral strain.

Over the weekend, health authorities announced that a 38-year-old Cambodian man had tested positive for coronavirus in Siem Reap after coming in contact with a traveling Japanese man. The Japanese national tested positive for the virus after returning to Japan.

Three others in Siem Reap — the Cambodian man’s wife, sister-in-law and sister-in-law’s husband — have tested negative but are being kept in quarantine and observed for symptoms for 14 days. The Cambodian man’s identity has not been disclosed.

On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he would visit the city to calm fears about the virus.

“I will go down to visit Siem Reap province to see it directly,” Hun Sen said, though he did not give exact dates for his trip.

Residents’ fears

In the city, residents said they were reluctant to venture outside out of fear for the virus.

Sok Chanroeun, 39, said he and many of his neighbors were staying at home until the situation settled.

“The people are scared of Covid-19,” Chanroeun said, referring to the disease. Authorities needed to step in to prevent prices from rising and threatening the livelihoods of poor people, he added. People were buying up bottled water, canned fish and other goods, he said.

Heng Ratha, a tour guide in the city, said residents were stockpiling noodles, meats, dried fish and rice so they could avoid leaving their houses during the scare.

He called on the Health Ministry and other bodies to disseminate better information about the virus so people knew what to expect.

“I think there will be a serious crisis related to Covid-19 if we do not have clear measures in time,” Ratha said.

Tourism woes

Horn Bo, 54, a tuk-tuk driver, said he was afraid of becoming infected by visitors.

“I don’t have any tool or equipment to check on the passengers who use my tuk-tuk, beside using a mask myself and handing a mask to them,” Bo said.

“Most time they don’t even wear it, and I can’t force them to. So what can I do?”

He had also begun to avoid picking up tourists from China, where the virus originated, he said.

“It doesn’t mean I’m racist — I just don’t want to get infected,” he said. “And I know the virus has spread from China.”

Provincial governor Tea Seyha said tourist numbers were plunging amid the scare.

“Chinese tourists decreased over 50 percent now and tourists from America and European countries decreased about 20 percent,” Seyha said.

The 300,000 residents of Siem Reap depend on tourism, and their livelihoods would be seriously affected by the decline, he said.

Preventative measures

Health Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said the ministry officials were now searching for others who may have had contact with the Cambodian coronavirus patient.

She called on anyone who suspected they had the virus to see a doctor immediately and avoid direct contact with others. Otherwise people should stay calm and maintain their hygiene, she said.

Hun Sen has ordered the temporary closure of all schools in Siem Reap City for about two weeks in order to prevent the possible spread of coronavirus, Health Ministry Mam Bunheng said over the weekend, adding that people should not gather in crowded areas.

Seyha, the provincial governor, told CamboJA on Sunday that authorities were tracing the movements of the Cambodian man who tested positive, while continuing to observe his wife, sister-in-law and sister-in-law’s husband under quarantine.

“Now we are searching the entertainment places where he went,” Seyha said.

Seyha nevertheless appealed for calm. “Please do not be too concerned about Covid-19 because our Health Ministry and the World Health Organization have clear measures to prevent and protect,” he said.

Additional reporting by Yon Sineat