THE Ministry of Health on Tuesday night confirmed four new coronavirus infections, bringing the total to 91. The four are among passengers of the Viking Cruise Journey.
Two of the victims are British nationals aged 61 and 79, while the other two are US nationals aged 59 and 62. All four tested positive only on Monday.
The cruise ship arrived in Phnom Penh on March 7 and travelled to Kampong Cham on March 10. The ministry found three among a total of 64 passengers infected with the coronavirus and immediately placed it in quarantine.
The ministry also announced that four other patients – all Cambodian nationals – have since recovered and been discharged from hospitals in Battambang and Tbong Khmum provinces.
Meanwhile, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng confirmed a report in The Post on Monday that Cambodian migrants returned en masse from Thailand just before its border closed. Their health was not checked for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Quoting an official at the Daung International Checkpoint in Battambang who declined to be named, The Post reported on Monday that around 1,000 migrant workers rushed onto Cambodian soil unchecked by medical staff.
However, Sar Kheng said 15,000 migrant workers entered Cambodia and ordered local authorities throughout the Kingdom to immediately track them down, educate them about the disease and lock down villages where Covid-19 cases are found.
Speaking to immigration police at the Phnom Penh International Airport on Tuesday, Sar Kheng said the bulk of the migrant workers returned through the Daung International Checkpoint in Battambang and the Poipet International Checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey.
The number of migrant workers was so massive that authorities there were overwhelmed.
“To be honest, we did not have the capacity to check all of them and we were unable to quarantine them for 14 days. We can only try to track them to their village, district, and province, and then send the local authorities to control the situation. This is what we can do now,” Sar Kheng said.
He said the mass exodus from Thailand was triggered by a fear of Covid-19, as Thai businesses closed and locals evacuated the cities in favour of the provinces. “This made our migrant workers want to do the same and return home,” he said.
Sar Kheng said he will produce educational messages and deliver them to each province and that if a few cases are found in a village, it could be locked down.
“For example, if a place has anyone testing positive for Covid-19, we have to lock down that house or half of the village. If that place has five houses away from others, we can lock down that location and not allow anyone to leave.
“If they live close to each other with many people, and there are a few cases, we lock down the whole village. This measure was disseminated yesterday,” Sar Kheng said.
Communicable Disease Control Department director Ly Sovann applauded Sar Kheng’s lockdown plans.
“This is a good measure as it will reduce the risk of spreading the virus to other villages. It would reduce any spread to a minimum,” he said.
Meanwhile, some of the migrant workers who returned to Battambang gave The Post different reasons for their hurried exit from Thailand.
Some claimed they wanted to renew their passports, while others said they had to return because, as vendors at Rong Kluea Market in Thailand, they had to renew their entry permits weekly. They claimed they would self-quarantine as instructed by the authorities.
On March 16, just a few days before Thai authorities announced the border closure, the Cambodian embassy in Thailand urged Cambodian migrants to abide by Thailand’s measures against Covid-19. It also urged them not to leave Thailand to prevent the spread of the virus.
Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights executive director Moeun Tola said there are three reasons why migrant workers returned – to celebrate Khmer New Year, the fear of catching Covid-19, and the lack of work in Thailand after the US suspended its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).
He said migrant workers living in Thailand were also facing financial difficulties. He urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok to negotiate with Thailand to at least reduce their rental payments if they could not live for free.
“We should consider how can we help them, or prepare a safe place in Thailand for them pending their return. We could have a centre where they could quarantine themselves for 14 days before returning home,” Tola said.