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As Cluster Grows, Cambodia To Expel Foreigners Who Flout Quarantine Measures

A medic wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) gestures to a woman waiting to take a Covid-19 coronavirus test at the National Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh on February 23, 2021. (Photo by TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP)
A medic wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) gestures to a woman waiting to take a Covid-19 coronavirus test at the National Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh on February 23, 2021. (Photo by TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP)

Cambodian government announced Monday that foreign nationals will be expelled from the country if they left assigned quarantine centers or did “not cooperate” with authorities, who are currently attempting to control a new cluster in Phnom Penh.

On Saturday, the government announced that it had detected a new community transmission cluster in Phnom Penh, which had registered about 100 cases in the last four days. The Health Ministry on Monday reported 23 new cases, raising serious concerns over the spread of this new cluster.

While the origins of the cluster are unknown, the government said four foreign nationals had left Phnom Penh’s Sokha Hotel during their quarantine, after bribing a security guard. Two of the four have tested positive for the disease.

“Foreigners will be expelled from the Kingdom of Cambodia and will never be allowed to return,” read a letter issued by a COVID-19 inter-ministry commission and signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 22.

Additionally, local businesses will be closed if owners failed to cooperate with authorities searching for potential COVID-19 patients. The letter said the measure was needed to strengthen the authorities’ ability to stem community transmissions.

The Cambodia China Times, an online news outlet, reported on Sunday that the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh had confirmed that some Chinese nationals had fled their quarantine hotel and some were in hiding after they had tested positive for COVID-19.

Or Vandine, secretary of state at the Health Ministry, said in a Tuesday press conference that the authorities will implement the new regulations to punish foreigners harshly. But she wouldn’t say if the four foreign nationals who had left their quarantine hotel in Phnom Penh would be expelled or not.

“We are working on that. I can let you know the result later,” she said. “But we don’t forgive anyone who is against public health measures,” she said.

Vandine was concerned about the new cluster and called it a “hard time of contagion.”

All foreign overseas travelers entering the country are expected to quarantine at assigned hotels or state-run quarantine centers for Cambodian citizens. Travelers are required to pay, around $2,000, for COVID-19 tests and accommodation.

In June, the Ministry of Economy and Finance listed every small expense involved, including a $3 charge for security guards at quarantine facilities, $5 to transport passengers to a designated area to await their test results. The heavier charges include $100 per COVID-19 test, with a minimum of four tests, and $30 a day for a hotel room and an additional $30 a day for food during a passenger’s stay at a designated quarantine center.

Li Ailan, the head of the World Health Organization in Cambodia, urged Cambodia to improve its quarantine facilities and strengthen surveillance mechanisms to prevent such outbreaks.

“Non-compliance of such measures is the problem that introduces the virus,” she said in a press conference held jointly with the Health Ministry on Tuesday.

“I think our response to the February 20 event was very quick. However, in terms of early detection, we have to think about how we can have early detection,” she added.

Last week, the Cambodian government issued a directive that legally allows authorities to fine an individual who evades or prematurely leave mandatory 14-day COVID-19 quarantine.

A person who evades quarantine will be fined from one to five million riels, around $250 to $1,250. Anyone who does not cooperate with authorities to take three tests needed during quarantine can be fined from $250 to $1,250 as well.