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Cambodia at Covid-19 crossroad, gov’t warns

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Ministry of Health spokesperson Or Vandine speaks at a Covid-19 press conference. Hong Menea

Cambodia at Covid-19 crossroad, gov’t warns

The Ministry of Health has warned that Covid-19 could spread in communities and lead to deaths if people do not follow its guidelines and travel restrictions imposed by the government.

Speaking during a press conference on Monday, Minister Mam Hun Heng said the Covid-19 situation in the Kingdom is “fragile” and that the government is not complacent with the relatively low number of infections.

The ministry reported no new infections or recoveries on Monday, with the tally remaining at 122 since the first case was recorded in January. Of the number, 77 patients, or 63.11 per cent, have recovered.

Bun Heng said Cambodia had so far taken samples from 8,909 Cambodians for Covid-19 testing.

To contain the pandemic, he warned that people have two options, either they protect themselves by following the guidelines or risk spreading it in communities.

“We are at a crossroads. We can decide whether to follow the instructions of Samdech [Prime Minister] Hun Sen and the ministry and thus halt the spread of Covid-19 or else. If we comply, we can maintain family happiness with no infections.

“The other way is to disobey the guidelines and consequently put [communities] at high risks. Then we lose happiness, with infections spreading in families and communities.

“Widespread infections could eventually cause our brothers and sisters’ deaths,” he warned.

The warning came after people reportedly flocked to their hometowns hours before the government-imposed travel restrictions came into effect on Friday.

On Thursday, Hun Sen ordered the April 10-16 travel ban to prevent an exodus of people across the country before and during the Khmer New Year, despite the holidays having been postponed amid the pandemic.

Bun Heng said disobedience could result in widespread infections. If that happens, he said the Kingdom will face shortages of medical supplies and health workers, potentially leading to a tragic disaster.

He stressed that in case of a fatal pandemic, bodies of Covid-19 patients would be buried or cremated immediately and families would not be allowed to keep them for their last rites.

Phnom Penh, he said, could see a small-scale spread among communities after a few cases of infections were found a few days in a row.

He warned that widespread infections are possible if the ministry’s Department of Communicable Disease Control (DCD), the Phnom Penh municipal Department of Health, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the US Centres for Disease Control could not identify a clear source of infections.

Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said while most Covid-19 cases are imported, those who are infected could transmit the disease to people in their communities.

“This is a very fragile situation. If infections keep spreading, we won’t be able to identify a clear source of infections in communities.

“The Ministry of Health’s working group is striving to conduct the most thorough research into various cases found recently,” she said.

DCD director Ly Sovann said another 266 people had come into direct and indirect contact with patients under quarantine. Of the number, 86 are at the highest risk and have been placed under health monitoring.

WHO country director Li Ailan said Covid-19 is a new type of disease that could spread rapidly. She called on Cambodia to take measures to prevent infections in communities.

She said if it becomes more contagious in the future, the country will struggle with demands for medical supplies and health workers. Many virus-plagued countries, she said, had experienced shortages of hospital beds, ventilators and other protective gear.

“The World Health Organisation is working with Cambodia’s Ministry of Health and others to make sure that we are better prepared,” she said.

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