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Virus outbreak hits Chinese community in Cambodia




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Phnom Penh (AFP)

A coronavirus outbreak has hit the Chinese expat community in Cambodia, the country’s Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Saturday, a setback in the Southeast Asian nation’s otherwise successful containment efforts.

The kingdom has so far been successful in combating the virus and life in the capital Phnom Penh has largely returned to normal.

But a group of Chinese nationals who have undergone tests to obtain medical certificates for overseas travel recorded positive results on Saturday, raising fears of a wider epidemic in the community.

“We discovered a large community infection with 32 cases… it’s a bad situation for us,” Hun Sen said during a speech broadcast on public television.

“Those who tested positive today are all Chinese.”

The growing presence of Chinese companies across the kingdom has reinforced anti-Chinese sentiment among some Cambodians, and Hun Sen urged people not to discriminate against Chinese nationals due to the latest outbreak.

The strongman prime minister, one of the world’s longest-serving rulers, is a staunch ally of Beijing, and Cambodia receives billions of dollars in concessional loans and investments from China.

At the start of the pandemic, many countries closed their borders to China, where the virus was first detected, but Hun Sen refused to do the same and even traveled to Beijing to meet with leader Xi Jinping last February as a sign of solidarity.

“Because it happened to Chinese nationals, please do not discriminate against the Chinese,” Hun Sen said in his speech on Saturday.

He urged residents to wear masks and practice social distancing.

The infections originated from a nightclub, now closed, and authorities are looking for contacts to locate any further cases, the prime minister said.

Much of Phnom Penh will remain open – including schools.

But a small island connected to the town known as Koh Pich – or “Diamond Island” – is now under partial lockdown, with police blocking all road access on Saturday morning.

The last local infection in Cambodia was in November. So far, the country has detected more than 500 cases but has not recorded any deaths.

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