The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued a measure banning assembly with immediate effect in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 among several hundred NagaWorld protesters, after 41 of them tested positive for the Omicron variant.

The former employees have been going on months-long strikes to protest what they have described as unfair layoffs and the management refusing to negotiate with the union.

In an instruction issued on February 6 by governor Khuong Sreng, the administration stressed that assembling for protest has been banned with immediate effect, and those who refuse to comply with the order stand to face legal action.

As of February 7, healthcare workers from the Samdech Techo Voluntary Youth Doctor Association (TYDA) have tested more than 500 protesters and found 41 Omicron cases.

The administration called it an “alarming” number and urged protesters and their relatives to obey the measure in order to avoid full-scale community transmission, which it fears may affect the country’s reopening efforts.

It listed the places that the municipal Department of Health would have to disinfect as “the transportation and public places that were utilised by protesters, the city bus that protesters had taken to get tested [for Covid-19], the parking places, dining areas, and restrooms”.

“All protesters who have not yet taken a Covid-19 test should do so as soon as possible and inform close contacts to also test themselves for the virus,” it said, adding that all protesters would have to self-isolate for seven days and avoid gatherings.

It also warned that those caught flouting health measures would be forcibly transported to the Phnom Penh Quarantine Centre in Prek Pnov district to serve their self-isolation. “Those who evade quarantine and escape from the facility will be fined between one to five million riels [$250 to $1,250],” the instruction stated.

The municipal hall also asked the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training to work with the capital’s 14 district administrations to visit all the protesters’ addresses and advise them to be tested for Covid-19 immediately, as well as to quarantine.

Sreng warned of administrative and legal action against those who continue to assemble – and flout the new health measures – as well as those who obstruct the work of medical personnel and authorities.

The Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU), which represents the striking workers, said in a statement dated February 6 that all protesters will comply with quarantine procedures issued by the Ministry of Health to prevent community transmission of the virus, and that they would continue their protests online.

“While we are in quarantine, we still continue to protest via social media to demand that NagaWorld accept the union rights, release the unionists who were arrested, and reinstate the 365 former staff and protesters, and negotiate with unionists with honesty,” the statement said.

LRSU said they will resume in-person protests after completing quarantine, and demanded that authorities stop preventing their assembly. The union urged government leaders to allow the protests – a right enshrined in law.

More than 130 trade unions, NGOs, and associations have issued an open letter addressed to Minister of Interior Sar Kheng requesting that he personally intervene in the NagaWorld employment dispute.

They also urged the release of at least eight people who have been arrested.