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Health Ministry Hotline Sees Ten-Fold Increase In Queries About Coronavirus Outbreak


FILE: In this Jan. 27, 2020, photo provided by the Poipet International Checkpoint, government officials distribute face masks to tourists during a launch of a plan to distribute a million masks to travelers arriving at the checkpoint with Thailand as a safety precaution against

One of the ten people tasked with answering the hotline calls said they have been missing calls because of the increase in call volumes, which had gotten a little better after the Ministry of Health increased the number of staff, around ten people.

Cambodia’s assigned hotline for queries relating to the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak has seen a ten-fold increase in calls following the confirmation of a pneumonia case in the coastal town of Sihanoukville.

Health officials, who are assigned to answer the national disease hotline, 115 Hotline, said on Monday that before the government announced the first case of coronavirus in Cambodia they received around 10 calls per day.

But, since January 27, when the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the coastal town of Sihanoukville was announced, the number of calls have increased to more than 100 a day, according to hotline operators.

VOA Khmer reporters called the 115 Hotline on Monday to get a sense of instructions and guidelines being conveyed by staffers answering health-related queries.

Hotline operators said they were primarily trying to calm down callers who were panicking about the pneumonia epidemic, but at the same time were trying to identify potential cases and provide up-to-date information about the viral outbreak.

One of the ten people tasked with answering the hotline calls said they have been missing calls because of the increase in call volumes, which had gotten a little better after the Ministry of Health increased the number of staff, around ten people.

The calls follow a standardized structure of the caller explaining their symptoms, at which point the hotline operator assess if they match with the symptoms of the coronavirus pneumonia.

If it doesn’t match the symptoms of the viral outbreak then the operators ask them to visit a doctor if they want, but that they did not seem to show symptoms of the coronavirus. The Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital and Provincial Referral Hospitals are recommended first stops for these callers.

Additional, information about the pneumonia and preventive measures are then conveyed to the caller. However, if the caller’s symptoms matched that of the coronavirus pneumonia, then the caller is asked to stay at home, not meet anyone and wait for doctors to collect a sample, which will then be tested at the Pasteur Institute. This part of the process is then handled by the Health Ministry.

Operators said a suspected case will then be kept isolated at a local hospital for a few days because Cambodia had only one laboratory to test for the virus, taking at least 24 to 48 hours to get a result.

The Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital has already seen a few cases being referred to it, with hospital director, Dr. Ngy Meng, saying that they had tested seven people so far.

Ngy Meng refused to give additional information because the Ministry of Health had prevented doctors from speaking on the subject publicly, only to add that all seven cases were negative for coronavirus.

“It’s all negative” he said. “There are Khmer, Chinese, and other nationalities. Ask the ministry if you want clear information.”

On Monday, Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine only said that Cambodia was equipped to handle the viral outbreak.

“Cambodia's health system is strong,” she said, responding to questions about domestic containment plans. “We have enough experience.”

Chinese health officials confirmed Tuesday that the country had confirmed more than 20,000 cases of the virus and around 400 deaths.

As the province of Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, remains in lockdown, Prime Minister Hun Sen has maintained that he will not evacuate Cambodians stranded in Wuhan, Hubei, even offering to enter the quarantined city to show support to the Chinese.

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