Seventeen Cambodians have tested positive for Covid-19 after returning from Thailand since December 20, the Health Ministry said, reiterating calls to follow strict protocol as migrant workers continue to flood across the border, many of them unofficially.
Thailand on Monday announced its highest tally of new cases in a single day at 745, with 541 in Samut Sakhon, a seaside province that has a large population of migrant workers and is the epicenter of an outbreak that has spread across the country.
Thirteen returning Cambodians have tested positive in Pailin province and four in Battambang province, officials said, explaining that many of the thousands tested had only been identified after reports from neighbors that they ignored protocol to return home.
“Since December 20 … a total of 17 migrant workers tested positive for Covid-19,” Ms Vandine said.
“Please, people who are required to go into quarantine, do not run away from quarantine centers. Even if they run away, our authorities will find them,” she said.
About two million Cambodians are thought to work in Thailand, about half of them undocumented, according to the United Nations, while at least 110,000 have returned home since the borders shut in March.,
Since the outbreak in Samut Sakhon about three weeks ago, thousands more have returned, border officials said, many of them via unofficial channels.
Advocates say that employers in Thailand have begun firing undocumented workers in fear of attracting attention from authorities amid an increase in discrimination after the Thai government made migrant workers a scapegoat for the outbreak, many of them without pay.
“They need to escape from Thai authorities so they go and stay in the forest,” said Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, adding that the pandemic was also being used as an excuses to improperly terminate registered workers
Returning workers were avoiding returning via official checkpoints due to assumed costs and inconvenience, he said, adding that he had received reports of officials on both sides of the border demanding bribes.
Of 1,735 migrant workers tested in Battambang province over the past week, some had skipped the borders and headed home, only to be reported by neighbors, said Soeum Bunrith, spokesman for the provincial government.
This endangered their families and communities and increased the workload of authorities working to contain the outbreak, he said, adding that the four positive cases in Battambang had been transferred to a separate quarantine center.
“Please, people who return to Cambodia illegally, cooperate with our authorities,” he said, explaining that there were quarantine centers in Phnom Proek, Kamrieng, Sampov Loun, Ek Phnom, Bavel and Mong Russei districts.
In Oddar Meanchey province, 2,121 migrant workers had returned through the O’Smach International Checkpoint since December 20, with 964 tested for Covid-19, provincial spokesman Dy Rado said.
“Until now, among all migrant workers who returned to Oddar Meanchey province, no one test positive for Covid-19,” he said, adding that those who weren’t tested were quarantined for 14 days.
Cambodia has registered 382 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths, according to a Health Ministry tally, with 362 recovered.