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Fines mulled for health breaches

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Migrants under quarantine in Banteay Meanchey province last month. Banteay Meanchey Administration

Fines mulled for health breaches

Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice and his Legal Council to prepare amendments to Sub-Decree number 129 concerning health measures to prevent and respond to international outbreaks of disease at border checkpoints. Among the revisions will be increased fines for violators.

In a voice message sent on February 15, Hun Sen instructed national leaders as well as capital and provincial governors to improve measures for preventing the spread of infectious diseases.

Hun Sen ordered the imposition of strict penalties for returning migrant workers who attempt to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine because of the serious risk of transmitting Covid-19 into the community.

“I would like to request that the health ministry and local authorities implement Article 8 of the sub-decree regarding fines for those who evade quarantine. Paying a fine is a very slight punishment compared to the consequences to society if infection spreads, but we are always forgiving,” he said.

Hun Sen asked Minister of Justice Koeut Rith and Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng to discuss amending Article 8 of Chapter 5 to increase fines to a level that is high enough to deter violations.

Enacted in September 2015, the article stipulates that any passenger or transport operator who evades or fails to cooperate with quarantine officials, inspections or the implementation of other health measures and procedures shall be subject to a fine of 200,000 to one million riel ($50 to $250) depending on the severity of the offence.

Violators may also be subject to liabilities in accordance with criminal laws. Anyone providing fake health-related documents, for example, would face criminal penalties beyond simple fines.

“I would like to ask the health minister to instruct all provinces to implement sanctions under this sub-decree. Furthermore, the health and justice ministries must work together to amend this article to increase the amounts of the fines. Please also review other measures in the old sub-decree and compose a new one if needed,” Hun Sen said.

Hun Sen also requested officials from the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and the Cambodian embassy in Thailand to educate Cambodian migrant workers planning to return home about the current quarantine requirements and enforcement protocols, including the fines for violators.

“We must do this to strengthen implementation of health measures and protect our people’s health. People who are fined will still receive the 20,000 riel daily stipend for food, water and other supplies as usual while they are in quarantine. We have compassion for them, even if they are being punished,” Hun Sen said.

Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng on February 15 said the fines for evading quarantine were intended to maintain public safety and prevent Covid-19 from spreading into the community.

He noted that the ministry instructs all migrants to refrain from crossing the border illegally because they risk their own lives and the safety of the community by doing so.

“People entering Cambodia must submit to quarantine without exception. Anyone attempting to evade quarantine will be fined one million riel or more and may also be subject to criminal penalties under the law,” he said.

Sam Heng requested that migrant workers cooperate by providing information to the embassy or local authorities regarding brokers who promise to bring them into or out of Cambodia illegally. He also reminded governors to implement Sub-Decree No 129.

He said that implementation of quarantine measures for arriving nationals and foreigners had previously been good but had become somewhat lax more recently and was no longer in strict accordance with instructions from the government.

“In cases where a passenger or a transport operator refuses to comply with regulations, quarantine officials shall cooperate with relevant authorities to deny them entry into or exit from the Kingdom,” said Bun Heng.

According to Hun Sen, a total of 35,665 Cambodian migrants had returned from Thailand as of February 14. Currently, 11,857 were still in quarantine in the seven provinces along the border.

Hun Sen said that he would make another live televised speech in the near future to provide a more detailed update on matters pertaining to the pandemic.

Health minister Bun Heng announced in a press release on the evening of February 15 that the UK variant of Covid-19 had been discovered in three arriving foreign passengers after their test results returned from the laboratory at the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge.

Two of the passengers were a 27-year-old Indian man and a 23-year-old Indian woman, both residents of Phnom Penh who arrived from India via Singapore on February 3.

The third case is a 26-year-old Chinese woman staying at the Sokha Hotel who travelled from China with a connecting flight from South Korea on February 7.

All three patients are being treated at the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control.

Bun Heng said: “The virus has been mutating as it circulated around the world. We must not underestimate its potential for rapid transmission nor the severity of the disease. It could appear in our country at any time or place if we do not properly protect against it.”

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