The Health Ministry has instructed Phnom Penh and provincial authorities to tighten security at Covid-19 quarantine centers after two men who have tested negative escaped from a designated site in Prey Veng province for several hours on Monday.
Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said on Tuesday that government-mandated quarantines had generally gone smoothly since the government lifted travel restrictions in May, but some individuals had managed to flee from quarantine centers.
“[I] would like the local authorities and law enforcement officers to increase their ability in guarding more strictly to avoid escapes from the quarantine center,” Vandine said.
She asked all those who are placed in quarantine to be patient, and warned that those who violate quarantine requirements could be punished under the law. Vandine said that a quarantine escapist can be fined on-the-spot between 200,000 and 1 million riel ($50 to $250), while a person who escapes after testing positive for Covid-19 could be criminally charged.
“If people try to escape from the quarantine centers, it is a wrongdoing, and authorities and the Health Ministry will question and evaluate [the violation] according to the level and size of your action, and the working group will decide how to fine [you for] the crime,” she said.
The ministry announcement came after two Cambodian men who returned from Malaysia on July 23 fled from quarantine in Prey Veng on Monday and were found by authorities several hours later.
Prey Veng provincial deputy governor Chan Tha said the pair, ages 21 and 32, had skipped out on quarantine on Monday at about 4:30 p.m. after 12 days in a Prey Veng high school. The first man was found at 8:30 p.m. in Prey To Toeng commune and the second at 9:15 p.m. in Prek Changkran commune, both within the province’s Sithor Kandal district, Tha said.
They both had tested negative for the virus three times, he said, adding that this was the reason they told authorities that they decided to leave the quarantine site.
“They do not understand their duties. They have duties to stay in quarantine for 14 days based on the guidelines of the Ministry of Health but they are careless,” Tha said. “They said three sample tests were always negative so they think that they do not have the disease and they escaped.”
After the incident, Hun Rith, deputy director of the Prey Veng Provincial Health Department, said 11 family members of the two men were instructed to isolate themselves at home after the men were in contact with their relatives during their time out of quarantine.
“Our provincial health department will monitor [the family members’] health daily…to prevent [Covid-19] transmission,” Rith said.
Officials decided not to fine the escapist duo because they were poor, but authorities were requiring the men to remain in quarantine for another 14 days, he said.
Rith added that provincial authorities were stepping up their guard.
“The provincial governor asked competent forces and military police to guard the quarantine center, and authorities are strengthening this work,” he said.
Last month, a Cambodian-American woman left a hotel in Phnom Penh where she was put in quarantine after testing negative for coronavirus. She was found in Kampong Cham province one day after she escaped, put back into quarantine and fined 1 million riel ($250) over the incident.
As of Wednesday, 243 positive cases have been reported in Cambodia since January, with 40 active cases and 203 recoveries.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday also announced that people working at foreign embassies and international organizations in Cambodia will be required to provide documents showing that they tested negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours before entering Cambodia, as are other travelers entering the country.
Vandine, the ministry spokesperson, said the new requirements were effective as of Wednesday.
The move comes after four Americans affiliated with the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia. The embassy said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that all four had recovered.
“Four members of the U.S. Embassy community tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Cambodia, but they all remained in strict isolation for the duration of quarantine, were asymptomatic throughout quarantine, and have since each tested negative twice,” the embassy said.
According to the Health Ministry, those holding A and B class visas, such as foreign diplomats and U.N. employees, will need to be tested for Covid-19 upon arrival in the country and be quarantined for 24 hours while awaiting their test results. They will also be required to follow other Covid-19 quarantine rules put in place since earlier this year.
Additional reporting by Ouch Sony and Matt Surrusco