UPDATED 10:07 a.m. — More than 250 Covid-19 cases were found at a Meanchey district garment factory, Phnom Penh City Hall announced late Friday, as workers spoke of fears and alleged delayed action.
Health authorities announced a total of 576 new Covid-19 cases across the country on Friday, the most Cambodia has seen by far, with several Phnom Penh markets announced as being linked to the new cases.
In a list detailing Phnom Penh’s new cases, City Hall noted that at least 251 were connected to Din Han Enterprise, in Stung Meanchey commune.
In a speech Saturday morning, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the total cases at the factory now numbered over 630.
Reports from City Hall show the first Covid-19 case was found there on April 3, another on Monday, 13 on Tuesday, 22 on Wednesday, and 251 on Thursday.
Cambodian Labor Confederation president Ath Thorn said he was worried about the spread of Covid-19 across Din Han and the country’s other factories. Workers were at high risk as the “February 20” outbreak spread across markets and communities, Thorn said.
“It’s already high,” Thorn said. “This company has more than 2,000 workers and many people are infected.”
Din Han Enterprise employs around 2,700 workers, according to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, and is a supplier for sporting goods company Adidas.
“When the first [case] emerged, workers were in a panic, but the company just said it’s OK and advised us to be careful, wear a face mask, and spray alcohol,” said Sderng Seang, an electrical technician at the factory.
The factory closed on Wednesday, four days after the first case. All workers were then asked to get tested and go into isolation.
Preang Net, a 32-year-old machine technician at the factory, said he tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday.
When the first case emerged, he asked his union representative to have the factory suspend operations for a period of time. According to Net, however, the factory refused.
“They said it doesn’t matter. [If] one is infected, the one leaves; two infected, two leaves,” Net said. “Now it has spread everywhere and everyone is panicked.”
Net said on Thursday that 10 of 30 sewing machine technicians, including him, had tested positive for Covid-19.
“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 also previously alleged that the factory owner had been reluctant to inform the Health Ministry about the potential outbreak.
The union had urged the factory to bring in doctors and test all workers, he said.
“I do not understand,” Huot said. “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.”
“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.”
A factory administrator, who would only give his name as Lin, 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.
“They don’t know clearly. We’ve worked with the ministry so far. As soon as it emerged, we contacted the ministry immediately. No one delayed,” Lin said.
Phnom Penh authorities have implemented a citywide curfew amid the current outbreak, and are announcing lockdowns in targeted areas.
As of Friday, the country had 1,591 active cases of Covid-19.
Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine has urged all residents to take precautionary measures to try to stem the outbreak.“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,” she said on Friday.
Updated at 10:07 a.m. with new case total from Prime Minister Hun Sen.