Cambodia Latest Regional Neighbor to Confirm Case of Coronavirus Traced to China’s Wuhan City

china-wuhan-hospital-patient-arrival-jan-2020.jpg Medical staff wearing protective clothing to protect against a previously unknown coronavirus arrive with a patient at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, Jan. 25, 2020.

Cambodia became the latest country to confirm a case of coronavirus on Monday, announcing that a Chinese national in the coastal city of Sihanoukville has been infected in the outbreak that has been traced to Wuhan city, in central China’s Hubei province.

Health Minister Mam Bunheng said that the 60-year-old patient flew to Cambodia from Wuhan on Jan. 23, developed a fever and runny nose on Jan. 25, and was confirmed to have been infected with the Wuhan novel coronavirus (nCoV) by the Pasteur Institute in the capital, Phnom Penh, on Monday after submitting a blood sample to medical workers a day earlier.

The patient is being hospitalized in Sihanoukville, he said, adding that none of the man’s three family members who traveled with him tested positive for the virus, which has killed 81 people and has been confirmed to have infected nearly 2,900 people worldwide in more than a dozen countries—although most cases are in China.

“He is being monitored and his current status is stable,” Mam Bunheng said, adding that the man “showed signs of common flu.”

“Health professionals have been paying close attention to the patient’s condition by isolating him for care in a Sihanoukville hospital. We also put his family members under close watch and we are looking for others who may have contacted him in order to monitor their health conditions.”

Mam Bunheng appealed to the public to remain vigilant in the face of the confirmation of the first case of nCoV on Monday, as the cost of face masks—believed to help control the spread of the virus—skyrocketed around the country.

At least 23 Cambodian students studying in Wuhan, meanwhile, have appealed to Cambodia’s government to help repatriate them, as authorities have instituted a lockdown of the city to prevent the virus from being transmitted.
“The usually crowded city is nearly quiet, with no cars running or people walking,” one of the students named Phoung Bopha Kimhong told RFA’s Khmer Service on Monday.

“People are staying in their houses to prevent themselves from catching the virus. Most shops are closed, so we are running out of food. We are worried and want to go back home.”

Phoung Bopha Kimhong said that Chinese authorities had donated food to them.

Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry issued a press release Monday saying that the government has no plan to evacuate the students, but instructed the Cambodian Embassy in China to help them as needed. The ministry urged the students to contact the Embassy.

In December, Cambodia’s government said that more than two million Chinese tourists visited the country in the first 10 months of 2019, representing nearly a quarter increase for the same period in 2018.

The 2.03 million Chinese tourists who traveled to Cambodia from January to October 2019 increased 24.4 percent year-on-year, and made up the vast majority—38.3 percent—of visitors from any one country, the Ministry of Tourism said at the time.

Chinese investment has flowed into Sihanoukville in recent years, but Cambodians regularly chafe at what they call unscrupulous business practices and unbecoming behavior by Chinese businessmen and residents.

Cambodia’s immigration department deported 906 Chinese, including 172 women, to China during the first nine months of 2019, according to Interior Ministry figures.


Immigration officials in Myanmar meanwhile have been screening all cross-border travelers with thermal scanners at all official border crossings and sending them for hospital tests if necessary, said Kyaw Soe, general administrative officer of northern Shan state’s Muse district, which borders China.

Health officials have tested two Myanmar migrant workers with non-normal body temperatures who they found at the Muse-White Elephant immigration office at the China-Myanmar border, he told RFA’s Myanmar Service Monday.

Muse District Hospital authorities released a 20-year-old male whose temperature returned to normal when he arrived at the medical facility, but said they are keeping a 23-year-old woman under observation because she was sick for two days in China, Kyaw Soe said.

Social media reports that the coronavirus has spread to the Chinese border town Ruili, across a river from Muse, has heightened concern among Myanmar border residents, though officials from the Ministry of Health said no infected individuals have been detected in Myanmar.

Myanmar authorities said they are also monitoring people in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state and in southern Shan state whom they suspect of carrying the coronavirus after recently returning from China.

Authorities have suspended direct flights between the Myanmar cities of Yangon and Mandalay and Wuhan, the epicenter of virus outbreak.

The Myanmar Embassy in Beijing, meanwhile, is trying to assist 60 Myanmar students stuck in the Wuhan area in returning home and is waiting for Chinese authorities to respond, said Soe Pyae Sone, the embassy’s secretary.

“We are negotiating with authorities to take them back,” he told RFA. “We are negotiating with the Foreign Affairs Office in Hubei. So far, we haven’t received a reply. We are still waiting for their response. We haven’t got the permission yet.”

Soe Pyae Sone added that the students must undergo a medical test for the virus and remain under observation for 14 days before they can return to Myanmar.

The embassy has arranged with local authorities and organizations to provide food to the students in the quarantined city for a week and has made available a phone number so they and others in Wuhan can call for help, he said.

Sithu, a Myanmar student in Wuhan, told RFA on Sunday that he and others are trying to take precautions to avoid infection.

“We are being cautious so as to avoid infection, he said. “We are following the guidelines from the WHO [World Health Organization]. The city is pretty deserted. There have been no people on the street since yesterday.”


In Laos, Minister of Health Bounkong Sihavong told reporters on Sunday that no case of nCoV has been confirmed in the country and dismissed reports circulating on social media that said a patient had been infected and was being treated in a Vientiane hospital as “fake news,” according to state media.

“So far, no patient has been confirmed as being infected with the new virus in Laos,” the official Vientiane Times quoted him as saying, adding that while there have been suspected cases in the country, tests had proved all negative.

In response to the threat of the virus, health authorities have strengthened screening and quarantine measures at all 27 ports of entry throughout the country—all of which have deployed thermal scanners to check visitors.

However, Bounkong Sihavong acknowledged that authorities face difficulties in preventing people infected with nCoV from entering the country, as carriers typically exhibit no symptoms during the first one or two weeks of infection.

RFA’s Lao Service also spoke with a Lao student who has been stuck in Wuhan amid the lockdown, along with two fellow nationals at his university, who said that the three of them were unable to return home during their holiday break.

“Now we’re stuck in our room, allowed to go out only once a day to buy food,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Wuhan is a big city with 11 million people, but right now it’s like a war zone … there are no cars and all the schools are closed. I haven’t seen sick or dead people yet, only on the news. I’m OK, but I’m afraid, and my family in Laos is worried about me.”

The student said he and his compatriots were awaiting orders from the Lao Embassy, and that “all together there are about 50 Lao students quarantined in Wuhan right now.”

The Lao Embassy in Beijing on Monday informed the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs that 99 Lao students have returned home from Wuhan, while 49 remain in the city.


In Vietnam, authorities have tested 63 people who exhibited fever symptoms after entering the country from nCoV-affected areas in China and found 25 of them negative for the virus. The remaining 38—including two Chinese nationals who tested positive for the virus—are being kept in quarantine at the Cho Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, according to the official English-language Viet Nam News.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Monday held a meeting with officials from relevant ministries and sectors in the capital Hanoi to discuss how to combat the virus, noting that Vietnam faces high risks of infection because of the country’s popularity as a destination for Chinese tourists and shares a long border with China.

Nguyen’s meeting came as authorities in some Vietnamese provinces said they will no longer accept Chinese tourists, following the recent announcement by China’s government that it is banning international group travel—effective Monday—in a bid to contain the virus.

The Khanh Hoa Province Tourism Association told Vietnamese state media on Monday that tourist companies targeting the Chinese market in the province will temporarily suspend operations beginning on Tuesday.

The Lao Cai Provincial Culture, Sport and Tourism Association on Monday also issued a directive requiring tourist companies targeting the Chinese market to temporarily suspend services to assist with immigration via the Lao Cai checkpoint, which borders China’s Yunnan province.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer, Aung Theinkha and Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service, RFA’s Lao Service, and RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum, Max Avary, Ye Kaung Myint Maung, and An Nguyen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes and Roseanne Gerin.


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