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Two Sokha Hotel security guards arrested as new Covid cluster reaches 76

Medical officials take samples from the mother of a student at Hun Sen Phnom Penh Thmey High School on Monday following the new community outbreak of Covid-19. Panha Chhorpoan
Medical officials take samples from the mother of a student at Hun Sen Phnom Penh Thmey High School on Monday following the new community outbreak of Covid-19. Panha Chhorpoan

Two security guards have been arrested over the release from quarantine of four Chinese women at the center of the latest Covid-19 cluster, which has seen parts of Phnom Penh shut down and a number of schools closed as confirmed cases reached 76 on Monday.

The two security guards, who are accused of allowing the four women to leave the Sokha Hotel where they were undergoing mandatory 14-day quarantine, will be subject to harsh new fines announced last week, said Phnom Penh police chief Sar Thet.

The two guards are now in quarantine, with one was arrested in Battambang province after fleeing Phnom Penh after the news broke on Saturday morning, while the other was arrested in Phnom Penh.

“We will implement based on the new sub-decree when they are finished quarantine,” he said, of the new penalties, which carry fines of up to $12,500 for people who collaborate with people to evade mandatory quarantine. 

Lieutenant General Thet said he could not recall the guards’ names or when they had been arrested.

The four women at the center of the outbreak will also face punishment under the new sub-decree, Phnom Penh police spokesman San Sokseiha said, adding that they had been placed back in quarantine. Two of the four women have tested positive for Covid-19.

Sokha Hotel could not be reached for comment.

Thirty-one new cases related to what Prime Minister Hun Sen has termed the “February 20 Community Event” were announced in a statement from the Health Ministry on Monday, taking the total to 76 cases.

With links to infected people, some schools in Phnom Penh and Kandal province’s Kien Svay and Sa’ang district were ordered closed by the government, alongside a number of Phnom Penh apartment blocks and nightclubs.

“Investigations show that the situation of infection in the community is larger and more complicated than the November 28 Community Event,” the statement said, reiterating calls from Prime Minister Hun Sen to avoid discrimination over the latest outbreak.

“Do not discriminate to infected Covid-19 persons or racially discriminate or discriminate against people who lived in any regions infected with Covid-19. Conversely, join together to help stop the situation from affecting the economy of families and the nation,” the statement said.

The ministry issued a list of 23 locations where infected persons had visited, including the N8 club on the corner of street 217 and 286, SIS International School in Tuol Kork, the Casa By Meridian on Koh Pich and Hun Sen Phnom Penh Thmey High School.

Additionally, Russei Chroy Secondary High School, Kolap 1 Primary School and the Chak Angre branch of American International School – all in Phnom Penh – and Hun Sen Russei Chroy Primary School in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district and Russei Srok Second High School in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district, were suspended, with lessons to go online, according to a statement from the Education Ministry.

“For Hun Sen Phnom Penh Thmey High School and SIS, the Health Ministry is collecting samples to test,” Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said, adding that staff or students had indirect or direct contact with infected persons.

“The parents work at clubs,” he said.

Hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and other establishments that see lots of foot traffic have been instructed to adopt QR Code registration systems to assist in tracking people potentially infected, the Health Ministry said Saturday.

News of the latest outbreak broke on Saturday morning, with Prime Minister Hun Sen calling for calm as clubs and apartments were shut down and bridges to Koh Pich blocked by authorities.

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 two security guards at the center of the outbreak face harsh new fines set to be introduced following the arrest last week of a district police chief in Battambang province accused of smuggling migrant workers past quarantine facilities and across the border, where a cluster of 90 cases have been found since a wave of migrants began returning from Thailand in December. 

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.

With less than 600 cases, most of which have recovered, and no deaths from Covid-19, people had become complacent, said Yong Kim Eng, President of the People Centre for Development Peace.

“This is a big concern,” Kim Eng said. “I observed that people don’t seem to worry about Covid-19 infection in the community this time.”

“The authority must take serious action against any security guards or relevant police officials involved with helping to facilitate any people to leave from the quarantine center.”

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