Cambodian Health Ministry officials said Thursday that they have quarantined 44 people for two weeks to monitor their health after finding that they came into contact with a Japanese businessman who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Ministry of Health’s Communicable Disease Control Department said in a statement on its Facebook page that provincial health authorities in Siem Reap, from where the 40-year-old man left the country, determined that four people had direct contact with him during his travel, while the reminder had indirect contact.
So far, Cambodian health officials have not detected any infections among those in isolation.
Health Ministry officials said they are working with Siem Reap health authorities to monitor the cases carefully and with transparency according to standards set by the World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Infection, and the Cambodian office of the Institut Pasteur.
The Japanese national had traveled from Vietnam to Thailand and the Philippines, and later landed in Cambodia. He then returned to Vietnam and Japan, where he was confirmed positive for COVID-19, after landing at Nagoya Airport on Wednesday, health officials said.
The businessman, who had symptoms of a high fever, had taken a flight the evening before from Siem Reap province to Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City before getting a connecting flight to Japan.
The instance is the third time that a traveler who stopped in Cambodia has been confirmed as having the virus after traveling to other Asia countries — in the first two cases to China and Malaysia, respectively.
The right move
Yong Kim Eng, president of the People’s Center for Development and Peace, said that Cambodia’s Health Ministry made the right move by taking action to determine who had come into contact with the Japanese man and to place them in quarantine.
He said he has urged officials to conduct thorough medical examinations of those in isolation to ensure they are not carrying the virus and to educate Cambodians about preventive measures to protect themselves from catching COVID-19.
“The Ministry of Health should take more measures to prevent the coronavirus form spreading, such as directly dispatching health care professionals to some villages to evaluate and monitor people’s health and to take their temperatures,” he said.
Ung Rachana, Cambodia’s ambassador to Japan, sent a letter to Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation saying that the Japanese man entered the country on Feb. 16, left Siem Reap province five days later for the Philippines, and then landed in Thailand before returning to Cambodia on Feb. 28.
The letter also said that the Japanese man left Siem Reap for Vietnam on March 3 before arriving in Japan.
Siem Reap provincial governor Tea Seiha told Cambodia’s Thmey Thmey website that the Japanese national had been examined in Cambodia, but did not test positive for COVID-19. He also told the news service that the man had been checked in the other countries, but was not found to have the virus.
Cambodia has reported only one confirmed case of COVID-19 — a 60-year-old Chinese man who was discharged from a hospital in February after recovering from the virus, according to China’s Xinhuanet online news service.
There have been nearly 98,000 confirmed cases worldwide with more than 3,350 deaths.
Factories shut down
The coronavirus is also affecting workers in Cambodia’s apparel and footwear industry — a crucial sector that employs one million people and accounts for about 75 percent of clothing imports to the European Union. Those sectors are now suffering from a cut-off of materials and inputs from China.
Ath Thun, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said 33 factories have closed and more than 17,000 workers have been suspended from their jobs at the request of factory owners as a precautionary measure against possible virus outbreaks.
Additional factories have reported to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training that they too will soon close their doors.
“For example, in Preah Sihanouk province there are two factories that have been closed, and about 500 workers are now jobless,” Ath Thun told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), also told RFA that more than 30 factories had closed temporarily, affecting about 20,000 workers in early March.
“As far as we know, there are about 30 factories or more that submitted letters to the Ministry of Labor informing it that they would temporarily suspend production, and the ministry approved,” he said.
“We believe that there may be more factories that will shut down, but we don't know yet,” he added.
Cambodia’s garment industry has already suffered this year with a cutoff of raw materials imported from China amid supply chain disruptions attributed to COVID-19, as well as the loss of some of its trade preferences under an EU tariff-free and quota-free scheme.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pheap Aun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.