Contagion Risk at National Assembly Session Sparks Testing of Lawmakers

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Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh (VOD Archive)
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The defense minister, finance minister, National Assembly president and several lawmakers are set to join the interior minister, justice minister and minister of the cabinet in going into self-quarantine following new fears of Covid-19 contagion at a full parliamentary session last week.

National Assembly secretary-general Leng Peng Long said on Tuesday that testing will be carried out in the afternoon for 66 officials — including senior lawmakers and staffers — after assessing the risk of a National Assembly session last Thursday, when lawmakers passed the 2021 national budget.

None of the suspected contacts had so far been tested, Peng Long said, and added that they would all be required to go into quarantine after their tests.

Defense Minister Tea Banh; Finance Minister Aun Pornmoniroth; Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol; National Assembly president Heng Samrin; Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Many and brother Hun Neng, both ruling party lawmakers; and National Assembly foreign affairs commission chair Chheang Vun were among the officials deemed to be at “medium risk” for Covid-19 and in need of testing, the National Assembly said in a statement.

Some 116 officials attended the Thursday session, it said. Thirty-five were considered to be at low risk and 31 at medium risk. It was unclear why the other 50 were not deemed to even be of low risk.

The country’s prisons director, Chhem Savuth, tested positive for Covid-19 over the weekend as part of a local cluster of 17 people so far. The government has yet to give any explanation about the possible source of the contagion.

Savuth met with Interior Minister Sar Kheng, Justice Minister Keut Rith and Bin Chhin, the minister in charge of the cabinet, last week. Kheng said in a social media post that he and more than 90 family members, bodyguards and other contacts tested negative on Monday, and have gone into quarantine.

Savuth also met lawmaker Loy Sophat, who attended the November 25 National Assembly session.

Sophat told VOD that he shook the prison director’s hand on November 23 at a meeting at Phnom Penh Hotel. The lawmaker said he and more than 80 relatives and contacts had tested negative and were in quarantine.

“My quarantine is at home in the province,” Sophat, 71, said. “All tests were negative yesterday.”

Prisons director Savuth’s wife first tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday, leading to widespread contact tracing. Almost 5,000 people have been tested this week, according to health authorities.

Positive cases include indirect contacts such as the nephew of a bodyguard of one of the infected people, and the wives of colleagues of Savuth.

Schools have been closed down and large gatherings discouraged for two weeks.

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