WHO: Investigation into the Origins of the Nov. 28 COVID-19 Outbreak Still Ongoing

Women wearing face masks amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, carry their child outside a hospital with a banner warning about the virus in Phnom Penh on September 29, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

While the Ministry of Health have suggested that Chem Sonita—daughter of Prison Department Director Chhem Savuth—may have been the source of the outbreak, Dr. Li Ailan of WHO said the investigation is ongoing.

PHNOM PENH--Dr. Li Ailan of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Cambodia said on Dec. 17 that the investigation into the Nov. 28 community outbreak of COVID-19 is not yet resolved and appeared to cast aspersions on earlier suggestions about the origins of the outbreak.

“To date, there have been 41 cases in the cluster related to the 28 November event,” said Dr. Ailan in an email. “The investigation of the cluster is ongoing.”

On Dec. 5, the Ministry of Health seemed to suggest that two people may have been the source of the outbreak. Chem Sonita, 30, and Tang Sevenup, 42, were reported by the ministry as the sources of infection and urged anyone who had come into contact with either of them going back as early as Oct. 14 to get tested for COVID-19.

Sonita, whose identity was shared one day following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to allow the Health Ministry to publicly identify COVID-19 patients, is believed to be the daughter of Chhem Savuth, the director of the Interior Ministry’s Prison Department.

Savuth’s wife was the first patient in the Nov. 28 outbreak to be identified. Sevenup appears to be Sonita’s brother-in-law. He and his wife also contracted the coronavirus during the outbreak.

However, while Dr. Ailan neither confirmed nor denied Sonita and Sevenup’s status as the original source of the outbreak, she did say that there currently is no evidence to suggest the outbreak was the result of someone returning from abroad.

“At this time, there is no evidence to suggest a link to anyone returning to Cambodia from the US or other countries,” she said, noting that WHO and the US Center for Disease Control—along with other organizations—are supporting the Health Ministry’s ongoing investigation.

The objectives of the investigation are two-fold, she explained. Contact tracing to identify all contacts and quarantine any close contacts is primary, with a special focus on high-risk 3C settings.

3C settings, she explained, include locations where visitors are in close contact with one another, confined and likely to become crowded spaces.

“More than 37,000 samples have been tested in relation to the 28 November event,” she said. “The government continues to focus on the investigation of the cluster, isolation of cases, testing, contact tracing and quarantining of contacts, with WHO and partner support; and [implement] other equally important strategies and measures such as non-pharmaceutical interventions including promoting new normal, port of entry control and clinical management of patients.”

Spokespeople from the Ministry of Health could not be reached to explain the implications for Cambodia if Sonita and Sevenup were not the original sources of the Nov. 28 community outbreak.

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