The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has risen sharply in Cambodia after four Chinese nationals allegedly bribed security guards and fled quarantine from a five-star hotel. At least two women then went on a partying spree through numerous nightclubs and visited friends.
After they were apprehended, two tested positive for the disease.
CCTV footage of one girl and a security guard leaving her room and exiting the hotel through a fire-escape went viral across the country, enraging locals who view the pandemic as a “foreigners disease” which is threatening their health and has wrecked the economy.
The incident has been dubbed the “February 20 Community Event” and is Cambodia’s third – and by far the largest – community outbreak since the pandemic erupted a year ago. The U.K. variant of the disease has also emerged here and more than 1,500 have been quarantined in recent days.
Prior to the outbreak, the number of confirmed cases stood at just 484, with 470 recoveries and no deaths. But that number has soared to 741 with 477 recoveries within a week prompting lockdowns and government warnings that includes orders to deport anyone who breaches health regulations.
It was an order that was enacted upon almost immediately with the deportation of a Chinese media proprietor whose license was also revoked for spreading “fake news” about COVID-19 vaccinations in Cambodia.
The Interior Ministry said Shen Kaidon, owner of Angkor Today Media, was deported on Thursday and banned from entering Cambodia for life after he said on a social media platform: “Cambodia sells China-aided COVID-19 vaccines at a high price.”
COVID-19 vaccines – AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Sinovax – are free in Cambodia and the government has announced this also applies to foreigners.
“All foreign nationals who are currently residing and working in Cambodia can get vaccinated against COVID-19 at no charge in accordance with Cambodian COVID-19 vaccination plans,” Phnom Penh has told foreign embassies and the United Nations Resident Coordinator.
The Chinese government has promised Cambodia 1 million doses for 500,000 people with the ruling elites taking the first jab and military personnel prioritized while the Australian Government has committed $28 million to support the rollout in Cambodia.
But the behavior of Chinese nationals in Cambodia has come under scrutiny. In August last year, concerns were raised about six Chinese nationals who tested positive for COVID-19 but went missing after their embassy in Phnom Penh questioned the results.
After initial tests were conducted upon their arrival in the capital a Chinese embassy official apparently urged the health ministry not to include the results in its daily reports, which are made public through government-backed news outlets.
The six were then reportedly retested and all the results turned out negative, which one medical practitioner described “as a result that would be almost impossible to obtain.”
Then, in October, a video that appeared to show a state registered bus allowing just arrived passengers to evade airport quarantine, raising fears of preferential treatment for Chinese visitors.
Initially posted online under the name of “Yin Seng” and then picked up by local media, the video shows passengers getting off the bus with their luggage, aided by transport staff, outside the airport.
Most of the confirmed cases in the latest community outbreak are among Chinese nationals, some in the southern port town of Sihanoukville, where Chinese businesses have invested heavily.
The government has also identified 63 clusters in Phnom Penh while businesses and schools have closed and events ranging from weddings to art shows have been cancelled.
However, the major headache confronting the Cambodian government, which had earned widespread international praise for its handling of the pandemic, is integrity and corruption, particularly at the lower end of the bureaucracy.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt