Provinces Cast Wide Net for Covid-19 Contact Tracing

3 min read
A patient screening point in the front of Royal Phnom Penh Hospital, where patients are tested for Covid-19, on July 28, 2020 (Matt Surrusco/VOD)

Hundreds of people are being tested and quarantined in provinces across the country even for having had indirect contact with the country’s prisons director more than two weeks before he tested positive for Covid-19.

In Kampong Thom, 104 indirect contacts are quarantined at home due to a visit by the director on November 11, while in Banteay Meanchey, 396 people have been tested due to indirect contact during a two-hour visit on November 12.

The director, Chhem Savuth, tested positive this past weekend. All testing results outside Phnom Penh have so far been negative.

“It is indirect and long ago but as a precaution, we searched for and got their samples for testing,” said Srey Sin, Kampong Thom’s provincial health department director.

Most of the 104 indirect contacts are prison officials who attended gatherings during the visit of Savuth, director of the Interior Ministry’s prisons department.

“We don’t worry too much,” Sin said. “But we need to follow the preventive measures daily.”

In Banteay Meanchey, provincial health department director Le Chan Sangvath said Savuth had direct contact with five officials, including the provincial police chief, deputy police chief and court prosecutor, with whom he dined during his two-hour visit.

Some 396 indirect contacts from the visit were also tested and put under quarantine, with the threat of fines or imprisonment if they did not follow safety measures, he said.

“The provincial governor ordered and advised me already that whenever we call them and they are not at home or they’ve left their homes for somewhere, [we] report it to the governor, and competent authorities will get them immediately,” Chan Sangvath said.

More than 8,000 people have had samples collected nationwide for Covid-19 testing since the prisons director’s wife was found to have the disease on Saturday.

There have been 17 positive cases in the cluster so far. They are all in Phnom Penh, including the luxury gated community of Borey Peng Huoth where the family lives. They also live in Siem Reap city’s Chreav commune, according to authorities.

Siem Reap provincial governor Tea Seyha said 230 to 240 people are suspected of having had contact with the cluster. Nearly 60 were from Savuth’s visit on November 12 to 13 to transfer prisoners from Siem Reap to Banteay Meanchey. More than 1,000 inmates had earlier been moved to Siem Reap due to flooding.

The other suspected contacts attended wedding parties and pagoda ceremonies where Savuth’s family members had been, Seyha said. People deemed to be at high risk are quarantined at the provincial hospital, he said.

Savuth’s daughter who lives in Siem Reap has tested negative two times, he added.

Meanwhile, in Mondulkiri, provincial health department director Bun Sour said 79 people were tested for suspected contact with Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Friday. Kheng was in a meeting with Savuth earlier in the week.

Kampong Cham health department director Kim So Phirun said 72 direct and indirect contacts in the province had been tested. An infected patient in the cluster had visited on November 24 and 25, he said, without specifying who the visitor was.

“We are afraid of transmission into the overall community. We are afraid of having any person who tested positive come from an infected place and come into this province,” So Phirun said.

Following the emergence of the latest cluster, the government has closed down schools across the country and ordered that people avoid gatherings of more than 20 people.

Yong Kim Eng, president of NGO the People’s Center for Development and Peace, said contact tracing had been thorough, and authorities should make sure people were aware of necessary precautions.

“More should be done in terms of dissemination, urging people to wear masks and maintain hygiene,” Kim Eng said. “If people do not change their behaviors, no matter what the preventive measures are, there will not be much success.”

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