Journalists, Government Officials Go Into Covid-19 Quarantine

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Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn greets his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto, in front of several camera operators during Szijjarto’s visit in Phnom Penh on November 3, 2020.
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Taking precautionary measures, some staff at news outlets and government bodies have gone into two-week quarantine following the visit of a Hungarian foreign minister who later tested positive for Covid-19.

Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said on Thursday that people who had been in contact with Peter Szijjarto or involved in his visit were still showing up to testing facilities following hundreds of tests the day before.

“It’s not finished yet,” Vandine said. Some 628 people who were tested on Wednesday were found negative for Covid-19, she said.

The ministry’s advice was for all who had suspected contact with Szijjarto to quarantine for 14 days to avoid transmission as the virus does not always immediately show up in tests.

“The ministry always gives the advice that we have to wear masks, we have to wash our hands, we have to stay a safe [distance] from each other, and we have to work together to implement that,” Vandine said. “If we can do that, we can prevent the spread of Covid together.”

Szijjarto, who visited on Tuesday, signed three agreements with the ministries of agriculture, civil aviation and water resources, and visited Phnom Penh’s Cambodia Museum of Money and Economy.

The museum was closed on Thursday, but the National Bank, which established the facility, could not be reached for details.

Pen Bona, editor-in-chief at PNN TV, said three staff from his company had joined the signing ceremony. The two cameramen and one reporter had already tested negative for Covid-19 and they would be in quarantine for two weeks, Bona said.

He said he was not overly concerned because they had tested negative and had followed safety measures such as wearing masks, washing hands and keeping a safe distance from others.

“We are just being careful, following the Health Ministry’s instructions,” Bona said. “The journalists were at a far distance.”

Ung Vuthin, a camera operator at Hang Meas TV, said he was at the event but had worn a mask and kept a safe distance.

He was tested in the morning and would quarantine at home for two weeks. He said he was not sure how he would stay a safe distance from his wife and children, though he was looking at preparing a separate room where he could stay for 14 days.

Nop Vy, executive director of journalists’ association CamboJA, said journalists needed to keep up their vigilance, as he had seen some reporters and camera operators no longer wearing masks and taking other preventative measures.

He also said events needed to be held in a large enough space to allow social distancing.

In Pursat province, where Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon visited on Wednesday before he knew of Szijjarto’s positive test, provincial agriculture department director Lay Viseth said he and about eight provincial officials had accompanied Sakhon for lunch.

He was due to meet villagers to survey flood damage, but returned to Phnom Penh around 1 p.m. “I am the one who walked close to him and reported to him about the situation,” he said.

The provincial officials had tested negative and were now in quarantine, he added.

Cambodia has had 292 confirmed cases of Covid-19 since January and 286 recoveries. There have been no official deaths and little community transmission.

Szijjarto, the Hungarian foreign minister, visited the country on Tuesday after having been certified as being Covid-19 free, but tested positive after flying to Bangkok.

Additional reporting by Mech Dara

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