An assistant to Prime Minister Hun Sen told a local media outlet that he didn’t know he was supposed to be in quarantine as he visited coastal areas — causing dozens to go into quarantine — despite being an indirect contact to a visiting diplomat who tested positive for Covid-19 after leaving the country.
The assistant, Doung Dara, is one of more than 1,600 suspected direct and indirect contacts of Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, who visited the country on November 3 and tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Bangkok the same evening.
Dozens of people have gone into quarantine in the provinces of Kampot, Kep and Preah Sihanouk after meeting Dara from Friday to Sunday last week.
Dara, who is also an undersecretary of state at the Council of Ministers, told website Khmernas that he did not know that both direct and indirect contacts of Szijjarto were supposed to go into quarantine.
His first Covid-19 test before embarking on his trip was negative, he added.
“On the first day we had a health check, [but] we did not see an announcement from the government that [both] indirect and direct contacts were banned from traveling,” Dara said.
Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said last Thursday, before Dara’s trip, that all suspected contacts should quarantine for 14 days to avoid transmission as the virus does not always immediately show up in tests.
Dara added that he wanted to help the public while the prime minister was in quarantine. He had traveled to try to resolve land disputes, he said.
“I took the opportunity, as he rested, to help the people. I used my brain and my physical and mental strength to help people, out of compassion for the people,” Dara said.
He added he had gone at the invitation of Preah Sihanouk governor Kouch Chamroeun.
“At that time he and I ate noodles happily and when I finished eating noodles, he reported that I was careless and did not quarantine. What did I do wrong?”
Chamroeun could not be reached on Thursday, and Preah Sihanouk provincial spokesperson Kheang Phearum said he was not sure whether Chamroeun was aware that Dara was a Covid-19 contact during the visit.
However, Som Piseth, the provincial governor of Kep, said he had not been made aware that Dara was an indirect contact of Szijjarto at the time he visited the province on Saturday.
“If he had been directly or indirectly in contact, I believed, he wouldn’t have mobilized to come here like this,” Piseth said.
Neak Sovannary, governor of Kampot province’s Toek Chhou district, said he also had no idea that Dara potentially had Covid-19 when he visited.
“If I knew he was involved in the November 3 [Covid-19 cluster], we would have observed social distancing and worn a mask,” Sovannary said.
Dara said he was prepared to be held accountable if the government thought it appropriate.
“I am responsible to the government, and if I get symptoms, take me for a health check or mete any punishment — I will accept it all,” he told Khmernas.
More than 1,600 people have been tested for Covid-19 in relation to Szijjarto’s visit. They have all been asked to quarantine for two weeks and take four total tests, with the last two tests scheduled for Saturday, November 14 and Wednesday, November 18.
Four people in the cluster have so far tested positive, all on their second tests.