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Cambodia Announces Third Virus Case, British Tourist Tests Positive on River Cruise from Vietnam

In this photo taken on Jan. 28, 2020, Cambodian students line up to sanitize their hands to avoid the contact of coronavirus before their morning class at a high school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng said Tuesday evening that a British tourist on a river cruise from Vietnam had tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19), only the third positive case to be reported in the country.

Mam Bunheng said the British tourist was aboard a river cruise owned by Swiss cruise line operator Viking, which started in the riverine town of May Tho near Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, passed by Phnom Penh and then docked at Kampong Cham province, along the Mekong River. The cruise had 30 passengers onboard and 34 crew members, who have now been quarantined on the ship, Mam Bunheng added.

“The Health Ministry made arrangements to transfer the British woman from the ship to a separate ward at Kampong Cham Provincial Hospital for treatment and medical observation,” the minister said.

“This is just another case [from outside] as I can tell. There has been no case of domestic transmission so far,” he added, urging the public to remain calm.

The British woman, 65, was traveling with five other people and arrived at Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport on March 2, aboard flight Vietnam Airline 54 from London. The Vietnamese authorities are also tracking others passengers aboard that flight.

After being informed by Vietnamese government and tour agency, the Cambodian health officials asked the five British nationals be get for the virus, when the ship arrived in Phnom Penh on March 7.

Initially, only three of the British nationals agreed to provide samples at Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital and two refused, according to health officials at the press conference. However, health officials again approached the two British nationals, who had not been tested, as the cruise reached Kampong Cham town on Tuesday morning, this time the two people agreed to get tested. One of them then tested positive for COVID-19, read the Health Ministry statement.

“We need a patient’s consent before we can do the test,” said Mam Bunheng.

The ministry is currently in search for people who were in contact with the five British nationals, including a translator who accompanied them to Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh.

The quarantining of passengers and crew on the Viking cruise is in stark contrast to Cambodia’s position last month, where it was initially ready to allow more than 2,000 passengers and crew aboard the MS Westerdam cruise ship to disembark in Preah Sihanouk province’s Sihanoukville.

But, after a woman from the ship tested positive in Malaysia, the government had to test the remaining passengers and crew on the ship before allowing them to disembark. The government said no one else tested positive for the virus, even questioning Malaysia’s announcement of the one positive test from the Westerdam passenger.

When asked if there was any plan to scrutinize the entry of the ships and cruises entering the country, Health Minister Mam Bunheng said there would be “no restrictions” as it is not the “government’s policies” to do that.

The announcement of the third confirmed case follows news of the first Cambodian to test positive last week for COVID-19. The Cambodian man worked with a Japanese national who also tested positive for the virus in Nagoya, Japan, hours after departing from Cambodia on March 3.

Cambodia’s first case was reported in late January when a Chinese national from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the viral outbreak, tested positive while on holiday with his family. He was reportedly recovered and returned home in February.

More than 110 countries have now reported positive COVID-19 cases, infecting more than 116,015 people and resulting in more than 4,089 deaths worldwide as of Tuesday. Apart from China, where around 80,000 people were infected by the coronavirus, South Korea, Iran and Italy have reported the most positive cases.