Ministry Urges Covid-19 Precautions as Restaurants Reopen

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A motorbike driver waits for customers outside the Health Ministry in Phnom Penh on March 19, 2020. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)

The Health Ministry on Monday warned citizens to follow hygienic practices and avoid restaurants that fail to take precautions against the spread of Covid-19 as Cambodia nears a month without identifying a single new coronavirus infection. 

Health Minister Mam Bunheng said the country has gone 29 days without detecting a new coronavirus patient and only two remain in quarantine, but the threat of a new outbreak in Cambodia will not subside until the number of cases and deaths decline globally. 

“We have not finished the war against the Covid-19 enemy yet,” Bunheng said during the ministry’s weekly press conference in Phnom Penh.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported about 4 million infections and approximately 275,000 deaths, while Cambodia has counted 122 infections and no deaths.

Li Ailan, Cambodia’s WHO representative, said that while many individuals were taking appropriate measures to prevent the spread of infection, the risk of another outbreak was still high. Li repeated calls for people to change their behavior to reflect a “new normal” in the wake of the pandemic.

“We are better prepared in Cambodia than we were three months ago, but we’re not fully ready to respond to a large community outbreak, so we have to better prepare for that,” she said. 

Bunheng reiterated preventative health measures to limit viral transmission, including washing hands frequently, wearing masks or covering one’s mouth and nose with a krama while in public spaces, avoiding large gatherings and practicing social distancing in restaurants and other public places. 

When asked about recommendations for reopening restaurants and other places where many people could gather, he did not offer specific guidelines, but he advised the public to avoid eateries that do not appear to follow proper health standards. 

“We want to go out and have good food for good health, but if we go [to a restaurant] and face risk of infection, please don’t go,” the minister said. “Just let those restaurants die.”

Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said that recommendations and closures of specific institutions — including schools, theaters, karaoke venues, or KTVs, and houses of worship for religious services — are still in place. She asked people to suspend weddings and other gatherings when possible and take preventative measures if a gathering is necessary. 

“If one [attendee] has a high temperature or health issue, [we] should not allow them to participate in our ceremony, but the best measure that other countries around us are continuing to take is to restrict gatherings,” she said.

Bunheng said a total of 14,094 samples were tested for the virus since January, with 1,716 samples tested in the last week. The number of tests more than doubled compared to the previous week.

The minister also reported that more than 90,000 people working abroad had returned to Cambodia this year. Health officials conducted spot checks of the health of about 2,000 migrant workers in Banteay Meanchey province, but no positive cases were found, Bunheng said. 

Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital director Ngy Meng said the two Cambodians who have yet to recover from Covid-19 — a 75-year-old man in Kampong Chhnang and a 36-year-old woman in Banteay Meanchey — were transferred to the Phnom Penh hospital for treatment, after both being in quarantine since March. They were taking a longer time to recover due to preexisting conditions, he said, explaining that the man had high blood pressure and diabetes.

Additional reporting by Danielle Keeton-Olsen

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