Minister of Interior Sar Kheng stressed to authorities of provinces bordering Thailand that they must strictly enforce instructions from Prime Minister Hun Sen concerning Covid-19 preventive measures following detection of a new outbreak of the disease in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province.

Speaking in Pailin province on December 21, Sar Kheng called on authorities in Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey, Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Pailin, Pursat and Koh Kong provinces – all bordering Thailand – to protect the nation with their diligent adherence to new safety measures announced by the prime minister the previous day.

When the pandemic began, he said, health measures applied to returning migrant workers included a temperature check for those who looked healthy, before letting them return home. Those who showed signs of illness were quarantined and given treatment as needed before being allowed to go back to their communities.

Now, however, all returning migrant workers must enter a 14-day quarantine.

“What we need to do now is quarantine at the border. It would be great if we do this successfully because then we could prevent importing the disease into our country through our migrant workers who will go to Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Kampong Cham or Takeo province. If the disease is found at the border, it will circulate only in areas like Battambang or Banteay Meanchey.”

“But if there is a sudden influx of 100,000 or 200,000 people coming back to Cambodia because they are scared [in Thailand], then we would need to be vigilant. The prime minister has already issued guidance instructing the use of trucks for transport, rather than allowing people to travel individually by taxis which could potentially spread the disease everywhere,” Sar Kheng said.

On December 20, Hun Sen instructed local authorities along the Thai border to keep only three border crossings open in order to easily administer the return of Cambodian migrants. He also increased the amount of money to be spent on quarantine works.

The Bangkok Post reported on December 21 that more than 800 Covid-19 cases were found in Samut Sakhon at a wholesale shrimp market.

General Keo Vanthan, spokesperson at the General Department of Immigration said on December 21 that the situation at border crossings with Thailand remained normal.

Nevertheless, on December 21, the department issued a directive calling for all international checkpoints along the Cambodia-Thailand border to be on high alert. All police officials at international checkpoints are instructed to work closely with officials from the Ministry of Health for strict control of the return of migrants, including requiring them to undergo quarantine.

The directive said: “International border checkpoint police must monitor all directions under their jurisdiction and stop travellers, especially returning migrant workers from Thailand, and bring them to health officials for testing and quarantine.”

The directive urged immigration officials, as the nation’s frontline defence, to be vigilant in protecting themselves from contracting the disease.

Officials from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Cambodia have been present at border stations of all provinces affected by returning migrant workers since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Kristin Parco, chief of mission for IOM Cambodia, said via email on December 21 that staff members are working with the government to support migrants when they cross the border, during their stay at quarantine facilities and when they get back to their home communities.

She said IOM are in discussion with sub-national level authorities and provincial health departments in each of the affected provinces to assess the support needed in each locale, including food assistance and distribution of personal hygiene materials to quarantined individuals, personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers and Covid-19 prevention awareness seminars at the community level in border areas.

Parco appealed to migrant workers, saying: “This year has been a big challenge for us all, and you are not alone in this time of crisis. We recognise your contribution and bravery working amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Thank you. Please practice preventive measures to protect yourselves and your families and follow the guidance of the health ministry so you can be safe.”