Health Ministry Warns of Covid-19 Variant’s Arrival

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Coronavirus (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
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The government for the first time reported cases of a more virulent coronavirus variant, as Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested increased fines for eluding quarantine, and a man returning to the country through an illegal border crossing was seriously injured by a landmine.

The Health Ministry said in a statement Monday evening that two Indians and one Chinese national who entered the country earlier this month and were quarantined in Phnom Penh had contracted the “U.K. variant 201/501Y.V1, VOC 202012/01, or B.1.1.7,” according to Pasteur Institute.

The variant, which was first identified in the U.K. late last year and has since spread to other countries, has been characterized as more easily transmissible and may be associated with a higher risk of death, according to E.U. and U.S. health agencies.

“We should not forget about a quick transmission and severity of a Covid-19 attack on our body, and strong transmission and severity of this disease could happen in our country at any time, in any circumstances or in any place if one fails to protect themselves properly,” the ministry said.

It added that people should continue to take precautions to avoid transmission of the virus, especially in regards to large gatherings, such as weddings and other ceremonies.

Cambodia has reported 479 Covid-19 cases since January last year, and no recorded deaths, with just 10 active cases as of Monday evening.

In a voice recording published by government-aligned Fresh News on Monday morning, Hun Sen said the ministers of health and justice should amend a sub-decree that covers health quarantine measures to increase the $250 maximum fine amount for those who escape from quarantine.

The premier said most people have properly quarantined, but some returning to the country, such as those using illegal crossings, did not follow quarantine protocols, in which case legal action must be applied to prevent transmission of the virus.

“If we continue to let it go on, it will be a serious matter,” Hun Sen said. “We need to conduct quarantine seriously.”

As of Sunday, he said a total of 35,665 workers had returned to Cambodia from Thailand recently, while 11,857 remained in quarantine across the country.

The prime minister also raised the case of a Cambodian worker who entered the country through an illegal corridor, aiming to avoid border authorities and quarantine, and was injured after stepping on a landmine.

Prem Sophal, police chief of Phsar Kandal commune in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet City, told VOD that a man returning from Thailand had stepped on a landmine at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, resulting in hospitalization due to injuries to his right leg.

“He might be afraid of being put in quarantine so he just walked alone and entered the mine area,” the police chief said. “For people, wherever they come from or what way, whenever they arrive in the village, if we know that they arrive from Thailand, we have to bring them to quarantine.”

Hun Sen said officials must crack down on ring leaders illicitly bringing people across the border to avoid quarantine, adding that police officers who acted contrary to quarantine measures would be removed from their positions or from the National Police.

Battambang provincial police chief Sat Kimsan issued a letter on Monday stating that Kamrieng district police chief Kim Ponlok was temporarily suspended for failing to follow procedures related to quarantine.

Ponlok was required to appear at a personnel office during work hours until further notice, the letter says.

The Health Ministry issued its own letter reminding city and provincial governors to strictly enforce quarantine measures and related punishments for violations of the relevant sub-decree, issued in 2015.

The directive, citing the sub-decree, says that passengers or the operator of any vehicle avoiding inspection by quarantine officials, not cooperating with authorities in implementing health measures, or not fulfilling procedures will be fined 200,000 riel to 1 million riel, or about $50 to $250.

It also says: “Anyone who falsifies health-related documents in order to evade the implementation of quarantine measures shall be punished in accordance with the criminal law in force.”

The Labor Ministry in a statement warned workers not to illegally cross the border due to risks to their safety and public health, and reminded them about the mandatory quarantine period upon arrival.

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