Hun Sen Voices Skepticism of Malaysian Coronavirus Testing

Prime Minister Hun Sen (C) speaks to passengers on board the Westerdam cruise ship in Sihanoukville on February 14, 2020, where the liner on February 13 docked after being refused entry at other Asian ports due to fears of the novel coronavirus.

Cambodian government maintains that their testing methods are effective, Hun Sen suggests a lack of cooperation is to blame for results in Malaysia. 

PHNOM PENH--Prime Minister Hun Sen said he still has doubts about Malaysia’s testing of a passenger from the MS Westerdam cruise ship and doesn’t believe she is infected with COVID-19. This is despite Malaysia having conducted two tests on the 83-year-old American woman, with both results testing positive. 

“The case in Malaysia is it true? The question has been raised, but of the hundreds that have already returned to their home countries and the hundreds who stay in Cambodia and on the ship, there is no case [of the virus] detected,” he said. 

“Why was there no-one on the Westerdam who was infected by the COVID-19 from the American woman? And, why not even her husband, who was eating and drinking and holding her hand, but he didn't get infected?” he added. 

Speaking at the graduation ceremony of nearly 2,000 students at the National Institute for Education, Hun Sen called on Holland America cruise line, the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO) to collaborate with Malaysian authorities to find the truth about this outbreak. 

“Surely if the WHO and the Malaysian authorities were fully cooperative, it would show a real problem? Is it coronavirus or what?” said Hun Sen. 

However, last weekend, an 83-year-old American passenger who had been allowed to leave Cambodia and had since flown to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, tested positive for the virus twice.

Having docked in Sihanoukville port on Feb. 13, the MS Westerdam has become a point of contention after Cambodian officials allowed the majority of the ship’s 1,455 guests and 802 crew members to disembark. While 409 of them have left the country, the rest remain, either on the boat or in Phnom Penh, but the efficacy of onboard screening and tests carried out by the Cambodian Ministry of Health has been called into question. 

Only 20 of the ship’s 2,257 passengers and crew were tested for the virus before disembarking and even this was solely due to those 20 reporting themselves to the ship’s medical staff.

The remaining 2,237 were only tested using infrared heat-guns, which many experts have decried as ineffective for detecting the virus. Similarly, experts have warned that passengers without symptoms may be carrying the virus unknowingly and as such further testing is needed.

The Ministry of Health on Feb. 18 claimed that all the passengers disembarking the Westerdam were tested for the virus in Cambodia, but no-one had been diagnosed with the deadly virus. Meanwhile the British government is urgently trying to contact Britons who left the Westerdam, claiming that they may not have been properly checked or tested for the COVID-19 virus.

On Feb. 17, Phnom Penh Municipal Hall provided a warm welcome to some 200 passengers from the Westerdam, taking them on a bus tour of the city’s landmarks along the riverside. Hun Sen has similarly announced a party to be held for the passengers at an undisclosed later date, despite the lack of certainty surrounding their health. 


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