Dozens Tested for Covid-19 in Siem Reap After Positive Man Was ‘Everywhere’

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Siem Reap’s popular tourist area, Pub Street, in 2014 (Michael Coghlan)
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Dozens of people are getting tested for Covid-19 in Siem Reap after a French man visited bars and attended a pool party during supposed self-quarantine before testing positive over the weekend, on his 13th day of mandatory isolation.

The 27-year-old French man tested negative for Covid-19 after arriving in Phnom Penh on September 20 from France via Singapore, but was confirmed to have the virus on Saturday.

The French School of Siem Reap said one of the school’s teachers had been at Laundry Bar last week at the same time as the man. The teacher was not in direct contact and did not talk to him, but is staying away from the school for two weeks as a precaution, it said.

The teacher had tested negative for Covid-19, the school added.

Parents were also asked to be cautious if they thought they had been in contact with the man, it said.

“I think they understand the situation,” the school said through a representative. “We’re following up very closely.”

The school had only received authorization to reopen on September 2 by following strict health protocols, and it didn’t want to have to close again, it said.

Angkor Wat complex in Siem Reap on June 6, 2020 (Matt Surrusco/VOD)
Angkor Wat complex in Siem Reap on June 6, 2020 (Matt Surrusco/VOD)

Laundry Bar owner Sylvan Pichard said he was not certain whether the man had been at his bar, but said he was not concerned about it.

“For me it’s never a panic,” Pichard said. “I don’t think it’s any problem.”

“He should have stayed home, but if he went out, he went out. It’s too late,” he added. “Nobody will die in Siem Reap.”

The Frenchman who tested positive was also at an outdoor pool party at the Navutu Dreams Resort and Wellness Retreat on September 26, the resort’s general manager Jeremie Clement said.

“This is a bit crazy,” Clement told VOD. On social media, some people were “very stressed” and venting loudly, calling for the man who tested positive to be jailed.

“He’s been everywhere in town,” Clement said. “Everybody knows.”

The man came to the open-air party around 10 p.m. when there were about 20 other people there, and only stayed a short time, he said. Clement stressed that at the time nobody knew the man had Covid-19.

About 10 staff members at the resort, including Clement, were tested on Tuesday, he said. Everyone was negative for Covid-19.

He added that there were at least 30 people at a testing center waiting for Covid-19 tests, which were “free and very fast.”

It was a tough situation for a tourism industry that was already hurting this year, Clement said. The coronavirus pandemic has largely shut down international travel.

“Honestly, we don’t need bad advertisement,” he said. “We have no control over this. Who can go around — that’s not [under] our control. And Siem Reap is in a tough situation. Everyone is closed.”

Inside Angkor Wat complex in Siem Reap on June 6, 2020 (Matt Surrusco/VOD)
Inside Angkor Wat complex in Siem Reap on June 6, 2020 (Matt Surrusco/VOD)

A source who works directly with the Health Ministry called quarantine procedures the “weakest point of Cambodia’s response” to Covid-19.

The source told VOD on condition of anonymity that officials were supposed to follow up with new arrivals in Cambodia every day of quarantine after the initial test. This was a challenge for the provincial teams, they said.

“It’s up to local authorities to supervise home isolation and that’s where [enforcement] can be uneven depending on the provinces,” the source said, without specifying any regions. They said foreigner arrivals were harder to manage because they typically have impermanent addresses and there are often language barriers.

Those who test positive were generally upfront about the number of people they contacted, with the number of direct and indirect contacts ranging from only a few to over 100. Contact tracers have been steadily improving in their ability to identify when someone is not being honest, through repeated questioning or having a higher official question the patient, the source said.

“We’re not the police, so we have to rely on people’s goodwill and good faith, and make sure [Covid-19 positive patients] feel empowered with what they can do.” Law enforcement could step in to get more information on a concerning case, the source added.

Officials had investigated health data, including “repurposed” influenza tracking systems, from late last September to the present, and have seen no indication that widespread community transmission had occurred in Cambodia.

“Covid-19 is not the kind of disease that hides for long, so if we did have [community transmission], we would expect to find it,” they said.

People wearing face masks walk through the gate at the Siem Reap Provincial Hospital on March 26, 2020. (Panha Chorpoan/VOD)
People wearing face masks walk through the gate at the Siem Reap Provincial Hospital on March 26, 2020. (Panha Chorpoan/VOD)

The French man who tested positive is being treated at the Siem Reap Provincial Referral Hospital, the Health Ministry said earlier this week.

On Wednesday, the ministry issued a statement asking families and relatives to inform authorities if people who recently returned to the country were not self-isolating.

The statement was about “strengthening at-home quarantine” and “preventing the transmission of Covid-19 in the community,” it said.

Those in self-quarantine were asked to “stay in an isolated room with good airflow for 14 days, wear a mask and keep a distance of 1.5 meters from family members and other people,” the statement added.

They should also check their temperature twice a day and look out for symptoms like runny noses, difficulty breathing, headaches and diarrhea.

Spokesperson Or Vandine previously said that those placed in quarantine who violate isolation requirements could be punished under the law, with an on-the-spot fine between 200,000 and 1 million riel ($50 to $250), or criminal charges if the person who escaped had already tested positive for Covid-19.

Vandine did not answer questions on Wednesday. The director of the Siem Reap Provincial Health Department declined to comment and referred questions to Vandine.

The French Embassy referred reporters to an advisory posted to its website, which says all people arriving to Cambodia need to respect the two-week quarantine requirement. The requirement is “mandatory” and “not simply voluntary,” embassy spokesperson Hugo Wavrin said.

Cambodia has recorded 280 Covid-19 cases since January, including 276 recoveries and four active cases.

Additional reporting by Ouch Sony

Clarification: The name of a source in the article has been removed due to miscommunication.

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