Minister: Border Crucial to Containing SARS

Foreigners diagnosed with severe acute respiratory syndrome in Cambodia will not be allowed to leave the country, Health Minister Hong Sun Huot said Thursday before departing for an Asean health ministers’ summit in Malaysia.

“Of course, the foreigner should go to the reference center. The reference center will check if they have been contaminated by the virus or not [otherwise] it can spread to other countries,” the minister said at Phnom Penh International Airport.

Hong Sun Huot left for Malay­sia with Communicable Disease Department Director Dr Sok Touch and Dr Net Ny, the Ministry of Health’s Asean representative.

The Malaysian meeting, which involves all Asean health ministers plus China, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, aims to produce a declaration on how the region’s nations can cooperate to control the spread of SARS, which has not been diagnosed in Cambodia.

Hong Sun Huot said uniform health screening procedures were one of Cambodia’s top priorities for the meeting.

“Our concern is how to control the passengers coming from the endemic areas. We would like to suggest to the meeting that the passengers coming to Cambodia have to be medically checked, screened, from the departure,” he said.

The Cambodian government has designated 44 million riel (about $11,000) for a SARS budget, which will pay for personal protective equipment like masks, and the deployment of quarantine officials. More than 10 quarantine teams have been deployed so far to international border checkpoints, he said.

Sok Touch said that Cambodia, like any country, has no certain way to stop the spread of SARS. “If we have a real case, many people will die. Surveillance is never complete in any country,” he said.

The Asean health ministers’ meeting today and Saturday precedes another Asean meeting to be attended by heads of state in Bangkok on Tuesday.

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