The First Regional COVID-19 Testing Laboratory Is Expected to Open within Weeks

A medical official (L) checks the temperature of a migrant worker at a school in Phnom Penh on April 20, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

The facility in Siem Reap City is the first of three testing labs to be open in the country

PHNOM PENH--A 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) testing laboratory is expected to open in Siem Reap City early next month as the authorities prepare for the return of foreign tourists.

Health Minister Mam Bunheng, who inspected the center under construction on July 9, said that the facility is expected to start operating no later than the first week of August.

This new laboratory will help expedite the virus testing process, he said, according to the state news agency AKP. “The center will bring the testing service closer to local people as well as tourists, both foreign and domestic, who visit the province,” Bunheng said.

The testing facility will be equipped with GeneXpert machine, which is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), he said, adding that testing laboratories will also be set up in other provinces in the near future.    

The Ministry of Health could not provide any information concerning the center’s testing capacity or the amount the government is spending to build this facility.  

When asked, Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine responded, via Telegram, “[t]he center is under construction. So that I am not able give an exact answer.” She also said she could not provide information as to which provinces will be getting testing laboratories once the one in Siem Reap City is open.

However, Health Ministry Secretary of State Youk Sambat said at a press conference on July 3 that initial plans were to set up testing laboratories in Siem Reap, Battambang and Kampong Cham provinces. She had added that the equipment was being ordered through WHO.

With regards to funding and costs to set up those facilities, Sambat did not specify how much would be spent on them. She could only confirm that  the $20 million credit package pledged by World Bank in late April was underpinning the country’s efforts to deal with the pandemic.

Cambodia has so far only had two testing laboratories, both in Phnom Penh, namely the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge and the National Institute of Public Health, which have capacity to undergo around 600 tests per day, according to the Ministry of Health.

Getting ready for the return of tourists while keeping strict COVID-19 measures in place

The opening of laboratories in provinces is part of the government’s response to a significant increase of international flights following the country’s decision in late May to end travel ban on flights from six countries—namely France, Iran, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States—while many countries around the world have begun to gradually ease COVID-19 travel restrictions.

According to the Ministry of Health, as of early July, the health authorities had tested for COVID-19 around 14,525 foreign nationals—among whom nearly 12,000 Chinese. It is believed that as many as 900 people arrive every day in the country on international flights.

Some strict measures for foreign tourists have remained in place to prevent a surge in infection. On May 27, the Ministry of Health started requiring from every inbound passenger—except Cambodian nationals and diplomats—to have health insurance coverage for at least $50,000, a fit-to-fly certificate issued less than 72 hours prior to arrival stating that the passenger does not have COVID-19.

Moreover, it was decreed that all arriving passengers, regardless of nationality, must undergo a coronavirus test and go through a 14-day quarantine should one of the passengers on their flight test positive. And foreigners arriving in the country must also make a deposit in cash or through debit card of at least $3,000 to cover the cost of potential expenses.

Cambodia’s tourism industry has been among the hardest hit sectors due to the pandemic with the number of foreign tourists arriving in the country declining by 52 percent in the first four months of 2020, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism.

Regarding the number of coronavirus cases in the country, as of Sunday (July 12), Cambodia had recorded 156 officially confirmed COVID-19 cases countrywide. Among them, 133 patients have recovered while 23 remain under treatment.


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