The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed concerns about the presence of the B.1.617 strain of the novel coronavirus, the latest cases of which were detected in three Cambodian migrant workers returning from Thailand over the weekend.
Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said the B.1.617 strain is more contagious and urged the public to maintain the utmost precaution.
“[This variant] can circulate faster than what we can bring under control if we do not act now to prevent its spread. We do not want to be ill with Covid-19. Each individual must take responsibility to stop the transmission of the virus in their family members and communities,” she said.
WHO representative to Cambodia Li Ailan echoed Vandine’s concerns, saying the situation remained serious.
“Complacency is very dangerous! New infections are likely to be increasing... It is not the right time to relax #COVID19 measures. Let’s focus on ensuring the effectiveness of our interventions! To do so, everyone plays a vital role,” she tweeted on June 5.
On June 4, the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge detected the B.1.617 variant through genome sequencing tests in the three workers who arrived through the O’Smach international border checkpoint in Oddar Meanchey province.
One of the workers is being treated in Oddar Meanchey province while the other two are undergoing treatment in Battambang province.
Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng said the B.1.617 variant of SARS-CoV-2 – the pathogen that causes Covid-19 – has been detected in seven Southeast Asian countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Bun Heng said the authorities need to be on the lookout for other suspicious cases of the highly infectious coronavirus variant first identified in India, tracking those who have been near the three infected individuals.
He advised that all health departments remain vigilant and correctly implement the standard operating procedures used to prevent person-to-person transmission, including the isolation of patients and making serious efforts at contact tracing in locations where Covid-19 cases were detected.
Cambodia detected its first case of the B.1.617 variant on May 11, in a passenger on an incoming flight who had already recovered from Covid-19.
Nguon Ratanak, the governor of Battambang province that borders Thailand, said at a Covid-19 prevention commission meeting on June 5 that recently the number of returning workers from Thailand and transiting workers from other provinces had increased.
“In early May, nearly 1,000 people stayed at 12 quarantine centres in the province. But so far in June the number has risen to more than 2,200. This increased number includes returning workers from Thailand,” he said.
He added that the rate of infections among workers from Thailand had increased compared to earlier this year. For every 100 workers, previously only one or two had tested positive for Covid-19. But now there are many positive cases.
“In my observation and that of other officials, when a worker tests positive for the virus, Thailand sends him or her back to Cambodia. Our medical personnel have observed that the workers hold certificates from Thailand saying they are negative for the virus but when we check them they test positive.
“The reason why we are sceptical is that the Thai government wants Cambodians to return home. Another point is that in Thailand, when people test positive they have to pay money for treatment. Cambodian workers might know that they are positive for Covid-19 but they return home because our government treats them free of charge,” he said.
Regarding Cambodia’s ongoing outbreak, Ratanak said people working in other provinces had returned home in large numbers and they brought Covid-19 along with them.
As of June 5, Battambang had recorded 352 Covid-19 cases, 50 per cent of which involved workers from abroad and the rest linked to the ongoing community outbreak. Of the 352 cases, 119 have recovered and two have died.