Health Ministry Traces Covid-19 Cluster to Prisons Director’s Daughter

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A Covid-19 testing center inside the campus of the Council of Ministers building in Phnom Penh on November 9, 2020. (Mech Dara/VOD)
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The Health Ministry said Saturday that the local source of the “November 28” Covid-19 cluster could be the daughter of the country’s prisons director, saying she showed relevant symptoms in October.

The ministry’s statement, issued in the afternoon, identified two people, the 30-year-old woman and a 42-year-old man, as the possible source of the Covid-19 cluster, which as of Saturday morning included 29 known active cases.

“[They] could be cases that have recovered after having signs of the virus, could be the first source that transmitted to the November 28 event from an imported case during October 2020,” the statement said. “The above is a hypothesis that the working group obtained from a discussion on December 5, 2020, that two individuals … are the first infected cases of the November 28 event, that they could have been infected from an imported Covid case from overseas.”

It did not specify whether there was any relationship between the two individuals or give further details about the tracing.

The woman’s Facebook page said she lives in Siem Reap, and on Saturday afternoon contained posts about attending wedding ceremonies, family trips and other events in Cambodia since October, including photos from Koh Rong Sanloem on November 1 and Phnom Penh’s Vimean Sokha Historical Museum on October 18. It contained some information about relationships within the family, including prisons director Chhem Savuth. It was made inaccessible around 5:45 p.m. Government-aligned media, including Fresh News, have identified the woman as Savuth’s daughter.

On November 28, the woman’s mother — Savuth’s wife — tested positive for Covid-19 after three days of cold symptoms. The positive test sparked widespread contact tracing, and more than 10,000 people were tested this week, the ministry said in an earlier statement on Saturday morning.

Twenty-nine positive cases have been found. At least eight are relatives of Savuth. Employees at the Bank of China and Cathay United Bank in Phnom Penh have also tested positive, while seven staff members at fashion store Pedro on Sihanouk Blvd. have also been found to have the disease.

The Health Ministry asked in its afternoon statement that all people who have been in contact with the two individuals between October 14 and November 17 come in for testing — including taking possible blood tests — even if they have not had symptoms.

Several government ministers are in quarantine due to suspected contact with the prisons director, while schools, museums, gyms and cinemas have been closed down nationwide.

Cambodia has not had any official deaths from Covid-19 this year, after 345 cases and 305 recoveries.

The Health Ministry urged that people take health precautions and said it would continue its investigation into the November 28 cluster.

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