Phnom Penh health authorities were only prepared for Covid-19 patients in the “hundreds,” local officials said Tuesday, leaving more than 1,300 currently waiting at home to be assigned a treatment center.
The “February 20” cluster has surged in the capital over the past week, with more than 1,000 new cases recorded over just two days late last week. Hundreds of cases have been linked to garment factories and markets in the city.
The Health Ministry said on Tuesday in its daily update that 1,364 patients were currently waiting to be placed in a treatment center.
“We have been solving this gradually because we didn’t prepare for a thousand patients,” said Phnom Penh health department director Ngy Mean Heng. “We didn’t prepare. We had prepared only for hundreds, but the event increased to that level.”
Health authorities have gradually worked through the backlog, moving hundreds of patients from their homes to treatment centers, he said.
Over the weekend, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that the Koh Pich Convention Center would be turned into a Covid-19 center to house up to 5,000 patients.
Mean Heng added that only those with mild symptoms were waiting at their homes; anyone who was old or had breathing difficulties or severe coughs were immediately taken to a treatment center. He acknowledged the challenge of isolating Covid-19 patients inside homes, though he said that often neighbors complained the loudest.
City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said authorities prioritized Covid-19 cases by severity, and officials were checking in on those who were at home awaiting placement by phone.
“It doesn’t mean we keep them at their homes [permanently],” Measpheakdey said. “It depends on the situation and placing them in the locations that we have been preparing gradually.”
Last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the Health Ministry to draw up guidelines for home treatment of Covid-19 patients with mild symptoms.
Pich Riya, who lives in Meanchey district, said his 51-year-old mother waited at home for three nights to be placed in a treatment center after testing positive for Covid-19 on April 7. An ambulance came to pick her up on April 11, the day after he made a Facebook post about his concerns, he said.
His mother had difficulty breathing and suffered from headaches, Riya said.
“We were panicking that if, for example, any emergency happened, we wouldn’t be able to help our mother. We could only do a little bit of first aid,” he said.
He called a doctor for help, and was advised to give her vitamin C pills and warm water, he said.
“But we didn’t know how much we could do because we are not experts in that field,” Riya said.
Eight family members live in the two-story house, he said. His mother was kept upstairs, and the others brought meals to her.
They took as much care as they could — sprayed alcohol on dishes, and washed and kept them separate from those used by the rest of the family, he said.
“If we keep her at home, we might face a high risk of transmission from one to another. If other family members aren’t infected yet and we stay together, we could have a chance to be infected too,” he said.
His mother, a seller at O’Russei market, was still being treated at Modern Center 2, a wedding venue converted into a Covid-19 treatment center in Meanchey district’s Chak Angre Krom commune, he said.