A 38-year-old man in Siem Reap is the first Cambodian diagnosed with the coronavirus, the Health Ministry announced Saturday.
The development prompted the Cambodian government’s decision to close schools in the provincial capital for two weeks and cancel a gathering scheduled for next month to celebrate Khmer New Year near the Angkor Wat temple complex.
The man with the confirmed case of COVID-19 was among four Cambodians placed under quarantine at Siem Reap Provincial Referral Hospital this week because of direct contact with a Japanese citizen who left Cambodia on Tuesday and tested positive upon arrival at Chubu Centrair International Airport near Nagoya, Japan. The Japanese man had been in the Philippines and Thailand before Cambodia, where he started to feel sick. A representative of the World Health Organization said it was investigating his case.
Some 40 other people in Siem Reap have been isolated under medical supervision because of indirect contact with the Japanese man, government officials said Saturday.
Health Minister Mam Bunheng said at a news conference Saturday night that the Cambodian man had shown no sign or symptoms of the virus infection but had tested positive around lunchtime Saturday.
“The Cambodian man diagnosed with COVID-19 is receiving attentive medical treatments from our staffers at the Siem Reap hospital,” Mam Bunheng said, adding that the man was in stable condition as of Saturday evening.
Mam Bunheng said three of the man’s relatives had been placed in medical quarantine at the provincial hospital. A Japanese woman who had direct contact with the departed Japanese man also was in medical quarantine.
During the news conference, the health minister stepped out briefly, an absence that turned out to have been due to phone calls from Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, who ordered the two-week closure of schools in Siem Reap’s downtown and the cancellation of the Siem Reap Sankranta marking Khmer New Year, celebrated April 14-16 this year.
The Cambodian man diagnosed on Saturday was “a general manager of the Japanese man’s company,” said the Health Ministry’s spokeswoman, Or Vandine. “They had close contacts. All four people worked in the same office room with the Japanese man.”
The Cambodian government so far has maintained that the nation has had only one confirmed case of the coronavirus, despite concerns domestically about the efficiency of its screening and monitoring. The case involved a Chinese man who tested positive on January 27, after entering the country from Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, through Sihanoukville on January 23. He has since tested negative and was released from a hospital last month.
Earlier this week, Hun Sen asked his government to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak. The prime minister asked ministries to cut their capital expenditure by half without cutting salaries, and the Finance Ministry set aside $30 million to deal with the epidemic.
Hun Sen’s announcements were in stark contrast to his earlier attempts to downplay the viral outbreak.
In January, he urged Cambodians stranded in China to remain and help fight the virus. In early February, Hun Sen traveled to China to meet Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. Several weeks later, he handed flowers to passengers disembarking in Sihanoukville from a cruise ship after Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Guam had barred the ship, even though the Holland America Line said no cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed among its 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members.