Updated: More Than 500 New Covid-19 Cases, Alerts at Markets, Factory

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Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine points at a coronavirus image at a press conference at the ministry on February 23, 2021. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)
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UPDATED at 6:32 p.m. — The Health Ministry on Friday afternoon reported 576 new cases of Covid-19, a new record by far, with most of the cases in Phnom Penh.

The ministry urged people who visited Phsar Doeum Kor market on April 2, nearby Neak Meas market from March 21 to April 6, Boeng Trabek Plaza on April 3 and Boeng Prolit market on April 6 to self-isolate, and asked family members of workers at a Meanchey district factory to immediately come forward for testing.

Phnom Penh governor Khuong Sreng, meanwhile, announced that Chea Sim Samaki High School, in Toul Kork district, would be converted into a treatment center for Covid-19 patients.

Nearly all the cases were found in Phnom Penh, at 544 cases, according to the Health Ministry statement. The rest of the cases were found in Svay Rieng (16), Preah Sihanouk (12), Siem Reap (2), Kandal (1)  and Kampong Cham (1).

The ministry also reported 70 recoveries, taking the total number of active cases to 1,591. Zero deaths were reported on Friday.

In recent days, Phnom Penh reported clusters of cases around the O’Russei Market and the Din Han Enterprise garment factory in Meanchey district. City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said on Friday that both areas had seen significant increases in cases, but they were not the only locations of concern.

The ministry’s contact-tracing subcommittee posted on Facebook Friday afternoon that family members and roommates of the Din Han factory’s workers should come forward immediately to have samples taken.

A vegetable seller at Toul Kork district’s Neak Meas market also tested positive, and anyone who visited store A23 from March 21 to April 6 and is showing symptoms should be tested and go into quarantine, the subcommittee said.

People who visited Doeum Kor market, in Toul Kork district, on April 2 should self-isolate for 14 days, the subcommittee said. A Covid-19 patient was found to have visited the market to buy vegetables, fish and meat on that day, it said.

The subcommittee added that sellers and buyers at Boeng Trabek Plaza around 10 a.m. on April 3, and visitors to Boeng Prolit market, near O’Russei, around 10 a.m. on April 6, should also self-isolate for 14 days due to a Covid-19 patient’s visit.

Those with symptoms should get samples taken for testing at Bak Touk High School near O’Russei, Boeng Trabek High School, the Chak Angre Health Center, Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, Sopheak Mongkul Primary School in Pur Senchey district or provincial referral hospitals, it said.

In an audio message posted to Facebook around 1 a.m. Friday, Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said she could not sleep over the outbreak.

“I could not sleep because I was still tired of asking why some people have not taken the preventative measures that could cut off the Covid-19 virus. If I could do it for them, I would definitely do it for them, but if I did it, it would only protect me and my family from transmitting this deadly disease,” Vandine said.

She urged people to cooperate with preventative measures. “In the long run, we are facing a very high risk of reaching a large-scale outbreak in the community, and its effects will disrupt the family and social economy.”

Vandine called on everyone to spend the Khmer New Year at home. “Happy New Year!” she said. “A year to fight Covid-19 and win together.”

According to a City Hall announcement, a worker at Din Han Enterprise first tested positive on April 3.

A factory administrator, who would only give his name as Lin, said on Thursday that the premises were closed on April 7 and all 2,800 workers were sent to get tested. There were 54 positive cases at the factory as of Thursday, Lin added.

Preang Net, a 32-year-old worker at Din Han, said 10 of 30 sewing machine technicians, including him, had tested positive for Covid-19. He said it was hard to determine the root of the infection, but technicians routinely moved around the factory floor fixing issues with the machines. 

“As a machine technician, I had to go everywhere to fix machines. I don’t know what must be going on in that factory, brother,” he said. 

He added that different groups of workers, those from quality checks, cloth cutters and others, were being sent in batches to get tested.

Din Han union leader Nov Huot alleged that the factory owner had been reluctant to inform the Health Ministry about the potential outbreak.

“Even with testing, they didn’t inform the Ministry of Health, and they just let the workers go to get tested by themselves at testing centers,” he said.  “I am very concerned. I am afraid if it can’t be prevented, there will be a big impact, even on the workers’ wages. They are panicked and keep calling  me, but I don’t know what to do.”

Lin, the factory administrator, rejected the accusation, saying the workers simply did not know that the factory had been in close communication with the Health Ministry’s communicable disease control officials.

At O’Russei Market, streets surrounding the popular, and crowded, market were closed on Thursday, with health officials conducting mass testing for vendors and residents of the area.

Seng Vouch Theara, 30, who owns a children’s clothing store near the market, said she and her family will get tested Friday or Saturday but did not have any of the usual Covid-19 symptoms and are strictly following social distancing measures.  

“It is like we are in quarantine and do not even eat meals together. In other words, we do not have much time together, and most of us never leave the house.”

“My mother only buys vegetables from outside our house, from people who sell them on carts. She wears a mask properly and doesn’t go out much,” Theara said.

Sreng, the Phnom Penh governor, posted on the City Hall Facebook page on Friday that Chea Sim Samaki High School on Street 271 would be used as a Covid-19 treatment center.

Municipal officials were preparing three buildings with 34 total rooms for the center, with each room capable of accommodating seven people, Sreng said. That would put the total patients who can be housed at the center at about 238.

Additional reporting by Samoeun Nicseybon and Ouch Sony

Updated at 3:43 p.m. with information from contact-tracing subcommittee, Din Han factory and workers.

Updated at 5:21 p.m. with Or Vandine’s comments, Khuong Sreng announcing a treatment center at Chea Sim Samaki High School, and contact tracing at Boeng Trabek Plaza, Neak Meas and Boeng Prolit market.

Updated at 6:32 p.m. with comment from Met Measpheakdey.

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