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PM confirms community transmission, calls for unity

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The ministry has decided to temporarily close AEON Mall Phnom Penh (AEON 1) after Savuth's wife comfirmed having entered it to eat and buy some groceries on November 21. Hong Menea

PM confirms community transmission, calls for unity

Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on the public to stay calm, unite and follow the Ministry of Health guidelines after the wife of a senior official tested positive for Covid-19 in the Kingdom’s first case of community transmission.

The case has drawn criticism on social media, with some users placing the blame on the woman who they said failed to protect herself and others from Covid-19. The woman was identified as the wife of prisons general department director-general Chhem Savuth, who later also tested positive for Covid-19. Four of their family members also tested positive.

Health ministry secretary of state and spokeswoman Or Vandine said on November 29 that this was not the time to place blame, but to unite and listen to the country’s leaders and health experts in order to overcome this complex and dangerous health situation.

“I would like to plead with everyone: please do not give in to fear, do not think of who made mistakes and point to this person or that person.

“The most important thing right now is for everyone to take precautionary measures to ensure that there is no transmission from one person to another and no transmission in the community,” Vandine said.

The health ministry on November 28 confirmed that the 56-year-old wife of Savuth had tested positive for Covid-19 but had not determined as to where or from whom she had contacted the virus. The woman had reportedly travelled to several provinces in the country.

Areas involved are Phnom Penh, and the provinces of Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey and Mondulkiri.

The health ministry on November 28 also closed Aeon Mall Phnom Penh (AEON 1) for two to three days after learning that Savuth’s wife had gone to the mall to eat and buy some groceries on November 21.

The ministry took immediate action by collecting samples from the couple’s family for testing, finding that they and four other family members were also positive for Covid-19.

Soon after the disclosure, Hun Sen announced via a recorded message that Savuth’s family was the Kingdom’s first case of community transmission. He urged Cambodians not to panic as health authorities searched for those who had been in direct and indirect contact with them.

“I urge all citizens not to panic to the point of being terrified and losing control. Citizens are urged to pay more attention to protect themselves by wearing masks, washing hands and practising good sanitation as directed by the ministry.

“If it can be avoided, please do not attend mass gatherings. I am not calling for school closures in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap or the other provinces involved.

“All that is needed now is to wear masks, wash your hands frequently and maintain social-distancing,” the prime minister said.

The prime minister added that the government had taken emergency measures to enforce quarantine on those who may have been in contact with the infected and test them for Covid-19.

The health ministry started Covid-19 testing for people known to have come in contact with Savuth’s wife on November 29. The second round of testing is scheduled for December 8 and the third on December 12 at designated locations in Phnom Penh and the affected provinces.

Ministry secretary of state York Sambath said the latest Covid-19 case was of great concern because the patient was a local resident, not a visitor.

“What we are worried about is that we do not know whom she has contacted. Our team is working on this, which is very large scale. We are preparing many teams to learn more information,” she said.

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng announced on November 29 that all officials in his ministry who were in contact with Savuth need to be tested for Covid-19.

“For me, I worked with Savuth last Tuesday and discussed the royal decree on commuting prison sentences, but he was sitting about 7m to 8m away from me. But as I left the meeting, I walked across the walkway behind Savuth, and he stood up and talked to me for a bit. Therefore, I will get tested and self-quarantine too,” he said.

This news of the Covid-19 infection spread rapidly on Cambodia’s social media platforms, with some accusing Savuth’s family of not taking adequate health precautions.

Vandine, however, said even countries with better resources had not done as well as Cambodia to stop the virus, noting that this was the Kingdom’s first community transmission.

“Our working groups and ministry leaders do not sleep, working days and nights to prevent an epidemic and protect the health of everyone. I hope that in the spirit of solidarity we work together to fight Covid-19. We can overcome this challenge if we are together,” she said.

Hun Sen is presently in Siem Riep for a groundbreaking ceremony for a project to repair dozens of streets and improve sections of the Siem Reap River.

Meanwhile, all AEON 1 employees were tested for Covid-19 on November 29 after the ministry announced the temporary closure of the shopping centre.

The health ministry said Savuth’s wife has homes in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. She had felt unwell for several days before going to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, where she tested positive for Covid-19 on November 28.

All Covid-19-infected members of Savuth’s family are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship hospital.

In a separate case, the ministry has confirmed one more Covid-19 case – a 31-year-old Cambodian-American woman living in Pailin province’s Pailin town. The woman arrived from the US via South Korea on November 27 and is now under treatment at the Chak Angre Health Centre in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. The 56 passengers on board with her are now under quarantine at hotels and the Russian and Chinese embassies.

Vandine called on local authorities and provincial health departments to search for those who had been in contact with the latest Covid-19 patients and to monitor anyone already in 14-days of self-quarantine.

The ministry on November 29 called on all people who had interacted with them to be tested at the interior ministry, AEON 1 and Prey Sar Prison from 7:30am.

In Siem Reap province, provincial authorities urged anyone in contact to be tested at the Siem Reap Provincial Teacher Training College on November 29. In other provinces, anyone concerned about contact with those infected should contact local health departments for testing.

As of November 29, Cambodia had 315 cases of Covid-19, with 301 patients discharged from hospitals and 14 patients under treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital and the Chak Angre Health Centre.

On November 29, the health ministry also announced that two Covid-19 patients had tested negative for the virus and discharged. One was a 59-year-old Cambodian man in Phnom Penh’s Kambol district and the other was 31-year-old Cambodian bodyguard who became infected from the “November 3 event”, a reference to the November 3 visit by Covid-19-positive Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto.

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