Woman Returned to Quarantine After Shirking Isolation

3 min read
People wear facial masks in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Keng Kang market on March 8, 2020 (Matt Surrusco/VOD)

A Cambodian-American woman has been returned to a mandatory quarantine after she fled a Phnom Penh hotel last week and ventured to Kampong Cham province, the Health Ministry said on Monday.

The 36-year-old woman had been placed in quarantine at a Phnom Penh hotel after two senior U.S. Embassy officials, who were on her 91-passenger flight that arrived in Cambodia on Wednesday from the U.S. via South Korea, tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday, ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said.

Attending doctors, who were supposed to bring her food and check her health conditions, found the woman missing when they visited her room on Saturday morning, Vandine said. 

When asked for more details about the woman’s escape, Vandine referred a reporter to an interview she gave to Bayon TV on Monday in which she said the woman had been in quarantine on Wednesday and Thursday, but on Friday she hired a taxi to drive her to Kampong Cham province.

The woman stayed overnight in a Kampong Cham hotel on Friday, visited a provincial market on Saturday morning and then checked out of the hotel, the spokesperson told Bayon TV. Authorities found the woman on Saturday in a second hotel in the same province, Vandine added.

Vandine said in the interview that the woman had again tested negative for Covid-19 on Saturday, but she had to restart her 14-day quarantine period since she had skipped out on isolation. The ministry identified 10 people, including the woman’s taxi driver, three hotel employees and six staff of a hair salon, who made contact with the woman and would have their health monitored by officials, Vandine said. 

The woman had told officials that she left quarantine because she had tested negative and the hotel quarantine site was expensive, the spokesperson added.

In June, the government announced that foreign travelers may be required to pay more than $1,000 for Covid-19 testing, treatment and quarantine fees upon arriving in Cambodia. 

Vandine said the woman, who holds U.S. citizenship, was given options to stay in different designated quarantine sites with varying prices.

Asked whether legal action would be taken against the woman for violating quarantine, Vandine told reporters on Sunday that provincial authorities needed more time to work on the case.

A few individuals arriving in Cambodia had evaded Covid-19 testing, but no one had escaped quarantine until last week, the spokesperson said. She did not elaborate about when or how many people had avoided testing.

On Friday, the Health Ministry renewed earlier warnings to exercise preventative measures, including social distancing, limiting attendees at public gatherings and wearing masks.

Though widespread community transmission of the coronavirus has not occured in Cambodia, the pandemic is still spreading at high rates in other countries, and so the risk for local-level transmission is still present as new travelers arrive, the ministry said in a statement. 

“In order to prevent Covid-19 transmission from individual to community, the Ministry of Health would like to remind the public to adhere to a new way of living, by changing habits and behavior to have a high [level of] caution and continue to prevent the transmission of Covid-19 no matter when and where they go,” the statement said.

Cambodia has recorded 171 coronavirus cases since January, with 35 active cases and no deaths linked to the virus reported.

Since a ban on travelers from six countries was lifted on May 20 about 50 new positive cases have been reported, all newly arriving foreigners and Cambodians. The Health Ministry announced early this month that it would add more quarantine centers and sample-testing capacity as international arrivals increased. More than 16,000 travelers arrived in the country between May 20 and July 2, according to government figures.

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