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Cambodia Increases COVID-19 Surveillance Measures After Thailand Outbreak

People stand in lines to get COVID-19 tests in Samut Sakhon, South of Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Thailand reported more than 500 new coronavirus cases on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)

Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered authorities in provinces bordering Thailand to increase their surveillance for COVID-19 among returning migrant workers, after a recent outbreak in Thailand.

According to the Bangkok Post, more than 600 people, most of them migrant workers from another country, tested positive for COVID-19 at a seafood market in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province.

According to an audio recording from Hun Sen, authorities in provinces neighboring the Thai border were instructed on Sunday to limit border crossings to three checkpoints and to take health measures to put migrant workers returning to Cambodia in quarantine.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to appeal to parents, families, spouses, and children of those who have relatives working in Thailand to encourage their children, husbands, and those who are working there to continue to live there to do whatever to keep our jobs there,” he said.

He said Cambodian workers should not move around much in Thailand and those wishing to return to Cambodia would have to do 14 days of quarantine.

“Thai people are capable enough to solve this difficult problem. If we move from one place to another, it is really bad. So please do not rush to come into the country,” he said.

Authorities were asked to transport surgical masks to health facilities in the border provinces and 70 military vehicles were deployed to facilitate the transport of migrant workers from the three border checkpoints in Banteay Meanchey’s Poipet, Oddar Meanchey’s O’Smach, and Battambang’s Doung, to quarantine facilities.

"So, our real disease right now is fear. But, it is not a matter of being too fearful because being fearful beyond reality will become a problem. It will become shocked and panic," Hun Sen added.

Health Minister Mam Bunheng issued a directive to the authorities of the border provinces to increase COVID-19 preventive measures, check the temperature of anyone entering Cambodia, and a compulsory 14-day quarantine.

Or Vandine and Yok Sambath, spokespersons for the Ministry of Health, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Vora Tim, executive director of The Health Action Coordinating Committee (HACC), raised concerns about people using unofficial border crossings to enter Thailand and urged authorities to step up surveillance along the border.

“Firstly, the authorities need to strengthen the border, which means that no one should cross the border,” he said.

Banteay Meanchey Provincial Governor Um Reatrey said the authorities would not block the entry and exit of Cambodians to Thailand and that they would be asked to quarantine.

“But after the order of Samdech Techo [Hun Sen], we will bring them for quarantine. Nobody escapes this,” he said, adding that as of Monday more than 300 workers had been put in quarantine.

Nguon Ratanak, Battambang’s provincial governor, had prepared quarantine sites in two districts, Kamrieng and Sampov Loun, to house returning workers. They were cooperating with Thai authorities, he said, to ensure that workers entered only through the assigned checkpoint.

“It means that we requested Thailand to close down [other] corridors connecting to Battambang, leaving only the Doung checkpoint,” he said.

In his speech, Hun Sen also said the government had disbursed 50 million riels, about $12,500, to each province to assist with the additional costs they will bear on quarantine requirements.