The Ministry of Health revealed that Cambodia had tested around 5,700 people for the novel coronavirus as of Tuesday, with the country reporting 109 cases in total and 23 recoveries.
COVID-19 testing has been at the center of the global debate over how to curb the spread of the virus, with many countries struggling to procure enough tests or were not testing the required number of citizens to assess the spread of the respiratory disease.
After announcing on March 18 that Cambodia had conducted around 1,100 tests, the Ministry of Health spokesperson Ly Sovann said the country had tested a total of 5,768 people for the virus, including the 1,580 passengers and crew aboard the MS Westerdam cruise ship.
The ship had docked at a Sihanoukville port and required the testing of passengers after one woman who had been cleared to travel tested positive in Malaysia. After that all passengers and crew were tested for the virus.
“And we are already prepared in case there is a need for mass testing that we have many other laboratories up to the task,” he said. “We encourage [officials] in the provinces and the capital to collect as many samples as possible to ensure we leave no place for community transmission.”
Initially, Ly Sovann was reluctant to reveal the number questioning the reporter’s intent. “Why is it necessary to know?” he queried.
However, he later revealed the number of tests to VOA Khmer.
The government announced Cambodia’s population to be 15.28 million last August, excluding around 1.2 million migrant workers overseas.
With this population, Cambodia has tested around 378 people per million, with the number dropping to 271 people per million, if the passengers and crew aboard the MS Westerdam and Dream World ships are excluded.
Countries like South Korea were able to control the spread of the virus with aggressive testing of the population, reaching around 6,182 tests per million, according to Reuters.
In contrast, the United States had been slow to respond to the pandemic and had only 300 tests per million as of mid-March, according to the New York Times, which then jumped to 3,000 tests per million in the last week. The U.S. now records the most positive cases in the world, around 160,000 and more than 3,000 deaths.
Cambodia performs similar to Thailand and Vietnam, around 278 and 369 per million, respectively. However, experts have criticized the low levels of testing and slow responses in some Southeast Asian countries.
Speaking to VOA News, Mark Simmerman, a former epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the low positive case numbers in the region were unrealistic.
“It's how hard are you looking, and how aggressively are you testing, and how thoroughly are you following up on every single case, all of their contacts," said Simmerman.