The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on Monday hit back at media and foreign institutions that had alleged the Kingdom may have contributed to increasing the spread of Covid-19 globally by allowing the MS Westerdam to dock and disperse passengers at Sihanoukville port.

“Such hasty, unsubstantiated, unprofessional and accusatory articles and statements have spurred unnecessary fears and confusion among the public regarding the spread of the coronavirus.

“They have caused prejudicial discrimination of the passengers of the MS Westerdam cruise ship, and aimed ill-intentions to devalue the Cambodian humanitarian gesture and health competence,” the ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

Prime Minister Hun Sen allowed the MS Westerdam to dock at Sihanoukville port two weeks ago after the ship, totalling 2,257 passengers and crew, was denied docking rights in five countries. All passengers on board have since left Cambodia as of last Saturday.

Last Monday, The New York Times published an article with the headline Cambodia’s Coronavirus Complacency May Exact a Global Toll. The article claimed that after the cruise ship docked in Cambodia, passengers streamed off the ship, maskless, prompting fears that the country could become a vector of the virus’ transmission.

Days after MS Westerdam had docked, Malaysian health officials claimed they had twice tested an 83-year-old American woman and found her to be Covid-19 positive.

But last Saturday, they claimed the case had improved after treatment and the victim was tested twice again and found to be Covid-19 negative.

“For a matter as serious as this global health threat, the ministry rejects such irresponsible and unethical journalism which has misled the public, exacerbated fear, caused unnecessary burden and panic and tarnished the image of Cambodia,” the ministry said.

Meanwhile, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Richard Quartarone told USA Today in an article published on Friday, that the woman “never had coronavirus to our knowledge”.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday also publicly criticised the Malaysian health authority for claiming that the woman was tested positive only to announce she was, in fact, negative 72 hours later.

“If she was cured, the world should go to learn from Malaysia because [they] can apparently fully cure [a patient] in just 72 hours. It is a miracle. It is a wonder for Malaysian medical treatment,” Hun Sen said in a statement at the Peace Palace on Monday.

He also told Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn to call the Malaysian ambassador to Cambodia for an explanation. He said the Malaysian statement had affected Cambodia’s reputation and prevented MS Westerdam passengers from taking return flights home, fearing they had contracted the virus.

With regard to the matter, Cambodian Youth Party president Pich Sros on Monday wrote a letter to the Malaysian embassy in Phnom Penh requesting the explanation.

“If the woman did not have Covid-19, Malaysia should apologise to Cambodia,” the letter stated.