Schools Shut, Travel Advisory Issued as Covid-19 Cases Reach 12

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Health officials disinfect playground equipment at the Canadian International School in Phnom Penh on March 14, 2020, in this photograph posted to the Education Ministry’s Facebook page.

The government on Monday ordered all schools shut nationwide until further notice, and advised citizens not to travel to several countries due to coronavirus fears, as Cambodia reported five more Covid-19 cases over the weekend, all people who recently entered the country from abroad.

While many students in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap City were already planning to stay home from school on Monday, following a closure announcement on Saturday, the Education Ministry ordered closed all public and private schools nationwide — from primary schools to universities — until further notice in an effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19, according to a ministry statement issued Monday morning.

Nob Naly, administration director at Pannasastra University of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, said the private university would begin a break on Tuesday after receiving the ministry’s notice early Monday. Some affiliated education programs were shut on Monday.

“We got the instruction from the Ministry of Education at about 10 a.m. and we had a board meeting immediately, and then issued an announcement to parents and students [instructing them] to take a short break,” Naly said.

“We will wait for further instruction from the Ministry of Education,” he added.

Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha declined to be quoted on Monday.

The ministry said educational institutions should collect information on students’ study trips over the last two weeks to countries that have reported Covid-19 cases. If students showed symptoms of Covid-19, which include fever, coughing and breathing difficulties, they should contact the Health Ministry’s 115 hotline for consultation.

The Health Ministry on Sunday said a Cambodian man traveling from France, two Cambodians who attended a Muslim religious ceremony in Malaysia in late February, and a French man and his 4-month-old baby who traveled from Paris had tested positive for the respiratory disease, which has spread to some 120 countries since late December.

The 35-year-old French man arrived in Singapore on Friday with his wife and child, where he was recorded with a high temperature, but he was allowed to continue traveling on to Cambodia, even before receiving the result of his Covid-19 test, the ministry said, citing the man’s statements to officials.

The family arrived in Phnom Penh on Saturday, with the man immediately put under quarantine in the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital after Cambodian authorities received the man’s test result on Friday afternoon from Singaporean authorities, the ministry said in a statement on Sunday. The man was retested in Phnom Penh and found to be positive on Sunday.

The man’s 4-month-old baby also tested positive and is being treated at the National Pediatric Hospital in Phnom Penh. The mother tested negative, the ministry said. In an earlier statement, the ministry said the woman was staying at the home of a relative in Phnom Penh.

A Cambodian man who had just returned from France also tested positive for Covid-19 and is being treated at Khmer-Soviet hospital, according to the ministry. The ministry statement, issued late Sunday night, did not give the man’s age, the date he was tested or any other information.

Two other Cambodian men, aged 35 and 39, also tested positive after a trip to Malaysia to attend an Islamic ceremony on February 29, the statement said. The two men were part of a group of 10 from Preah Vihear province who had traveled together, it said.

Eight members of the group, which returned to Cambodia on March 3, were tested on Saturday, and two were found to have Covid-19 late Sunday.

The two remaining members of the group have also supplied samples to the provincial health departments of Preah Vihear and Stung Treng, but their results had not come back yet, the ministry said.

The two men from Preah Vihear who tested positive are being treated at the provincial referral hospital, while the other eight will be monitored for 14 days, it said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has said Cambodians should fear false information spread online about the virus more so than the virus itself, signed an order issued on Sunday that advises citizens against traveling to European countries, the U.S. and Iran unless absolutely necessary in order to avoid health risks.

The government has also directed all civil servants and Cambodians returning from Europe, the U.S. or Iran to self-isolate for 14 days starting from the day they arrive in Cambodia, according to Health Ministry guidelines.

Government ministries and national and subnational institutions will not allow any staff to join meetings in Europe, the U.S. and Iran, according to the government directive. If attendance at a meeting abroad is necessary, the Foreign Affairs Ministry will assign embassy representatives in the host country to attend.

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