Philippines to shut border to foreigners as coronavirus cases surge

The ban on overseas arrivals by the Philippine government’s COVID-19 task force takes effect March 20. (AP)
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Updated 17 March 2021

Philippines to shut border to foreigners as coronavirus cases surge

  • Temporary measures come after the number of daily cases hit a seven-month high
  • Overseas Filipino workers will be exempt, but the number of passenger arrivals will be limited to 1,500 a day

MANILA: The Philippines will close its border to foreigners and restrict the number of Filipinos entering the country as authorities battle to contain a spike in coronavirus infections.
The temporary measures come after the number of daily cases hit a seven-month high of 5,404 on Monday and experts predict the figure could double by the end of March.
Most of the active infections are in Metro Manila where targeted lockdowns, night-time curfews and a stay-at-home order for all children are being used to curb the spread.
The ban on overseas arrivals was announced late Tuesday by the government’s COVID-19 task force and takes effect March 20.
Overseas Filipino workers will be exempt, but the number of passenger arrivals will be limited to 1,500 a day, it said.
Authorities have blamed the infection surge on poor compliance with health protocols, such as wearing a mask and face shield in public, and more contagious variants of the virus.
A year after ordering the first lockdown that crippled the country’s economy, threw millions out of work and triggered record hunger, President Rodrigo Duterte urged Filipinos to “not despair.”
“It’s a small thing in our lives. We went through (things that) are more severe, more difficult and brought more tears,” Duterte said Monday.
His remarks sparked anger among social media users and opposition lawmakers who accused him of belittling the suffering of health workers and people who have lost loved ones to the disease.
Duterte’s government has been flayed over its handling of the pandemic, which has infected more than 630,000 people. Nearly 13,000 have died.
The hospital bed occupancy rate is at 59 percent in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces, presidential spokesman Harry Roque – who has tested positive for COVID-19 – said Tuesday.
But at the Philippine General Hospital, one of the country’s main facilities treating COVID-19 patients, 80 percent of beds for patients diagnosed with the disease were occupied and its intensive care wards full, a spokesman told local media.
The government hopes to inoculate 70 million people by the end of this year.
More than a million doses of vaccines developed by China’s Sinovac and British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca have been delivered in the past two weeks.
The government hopes to have “a stable supply of vaccines starting April or May,” said retired general Carlito Galvez, who is overseeing the effort.
About 216,000 health workers have received their first jab so far, he said.
Authorities aim to inoculate 1.7 million medical staff by mid-April before distributing vaccines to the elderly and poor.


Artillery guns fire across UK in solemn tribute to Prince Philip

Updated 46 min 58 sec ago

Artillery guns fire across UK in solemn tribute to Prince Philip

  • On its official Twitter feed, the royal family put up a tribute paid by the queen to her husband on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997
  • The armed forces marked Philip’s death at noon (1100 GMT) with a Death Gun Salute

WINDSOR: Gun salutes were fired across Britain on Saturday to mark the death of Prince Philip as tributes flooded in for a man who was a pillar of strength for Queen Elizabeth during her record-breaking reign.
Members of the public laid flowers outside royal residences, paying their respects to the 99-year-old prince, who died on Friday.
On its official Twitter feed, the royal family put up a tribute paid by the queen to her husband on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997.
“He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know,” she said. The queen has been on the throne for 69 years.
The armed forces marked Philip’s death at noon (1100 GMT) with a Death Gun Salute. Artillery units in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and Gibraltar, and some navy warships, fired their guns.
Buckingham Palace is expected to announce details of the funeral later on Saturday.
It is likely to be a small, private affair, stripped of the grandeur of traditional royal occasions by COVID-19 restrictions and by the prince’s own dislike of people making a fuss.
Despite a request from the royal family for the public to obey pandemic social distancing rules and avoid visits to its residences, people laid cards and bouquets outside Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace through the night.
“What a life! Thank you for serving our country,” read one tribute outside Buckingham Palace.
“We’re all weeping with you, Ma’am,” read the front page of the Sun tabloid, while its rival the Daily Mail ran a 144-page tribute to Philip, who died at Windsor Castle.
The death of “her beloved husband,” announced by the queen, robs the 94-year-old monarch of her closest confidante, the one person she could trust and who was free to speak his mind to her. They had been married for 73 years and he would have turned 100 in June.
Messages of condolence have poured in from world leaders.
The Duke of Edinburgh, as Philip was officially known, was credited with helping to modernize the institution and supporting his wife as the monarchy faced repeated crises during her reign.
The tenor bell at London’s Westminster Abbey tolled 99 times, a traditional marking of the death of a royal family member.
Flags at Buckingham Palace and at government buildings across Britain were lowered to half-mast and billboard operators replaced adverts with a photo and tribute to the prince.
The BBC canceled programming across all of its television and radio channels on Friday, and aired a special program with interviews with the queen and Philip’s children, including heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles.
Philip “probably wanted to be remembered as an individual in his own right,” said Charles.
“He didn’t suffer fools gladly, so if you said anything that was in any way ambiguous, he would say: ‘Make up your mind!’ Perhaps it made one choose one’s words carefully,” Charles said.
A Greek prince, Philip married Elizabeth in 1947 and broke the news of her father’s death five years later while they were in Kenya, meaning that she was queen at the age of 25.
He went on to play a key role helping the monarchy adapt to a changing world in the post-World War Two period.
“I think he’ll be remembered as a modernizer in many ways, as someone who both inside the palace and outside the palace was a force for change,” Simon Lewis, the queen’s communications secretary from 1998 to 2001, told Reuters.
He said Philip’s loss would be a terrible blow to the queen.
“I think they were the most extraordinary partnership and that’s going to be a huge, huge, gap,” Lewis said. “I think he always saw himself partly as the eyes and the ears of the queen — that’s gone forever.”


Myanmar’s UN envoy urges action against junta as bloodshed continues

Updated 10 April 2021

Myanmar’s UN envoy urges action against junta as bloodshed continues

  • Country has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February
  • More than 600 people have been killed by security forces trying to quell protesters

YANGON: Myanmar’s own ambassador to the United Nations has urged “strong action” against the junta, as reports emerged of scores killed in the military’s latest crackdown.
The country has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February, with protesters refusing to submit to the junta regime and continuing to demand a return to democracy.
With more than 600 people killed by security forces trying to quell the movement, the international community has increasingly raised the alarm on the crisis.
During a UN Security Council meeting on Friday, Myanmar’s ambassador pushed for more concrete action – proposing a no-fly zone, an arms embargo and more targeted sanctions against members of the military and their families.
“Your collective, strong action is needed immediately,” Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun told the meeting.
“Time is of the essence for us,” he said. “Please, please take action.”
An independent analyst with the International Crisis Group also warned the council that Myanmar was “at the brink of state failure.”
“The vast majority of the population does not want military rule and will do whatever it takes to prevent that outcome. Yet the military seems determined to impose its will,” said Richard Horsey.
“Its actions may be creating a situation where the country becomes ungovernable. That should be of grave concern to the region and to the broader international community.”
China and Russia wield veto power at the Security Council and generally oppose international sanctions.
However, Beijing – the top ally of Myanmar’s military – has voiced growing concern about instability, and has said it is speaking to “all parties.”
There have been reports that China has opened contact with the CRPH, a group representing the ousted civilian government.
At least 618 civilians have been killed in the military’s crackdown on protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group.
Efforts to verify deaths and confirm news of crackdowns have been greatly hindered by the junta’s throttling of mobile data within the country – effectively shunting most of the population into an information blackout.
News emerged Saturday morning of more violence in the city of Bago, 65 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Yangon – the site of a day-long crackdown that forced residents into hiding in nearby villages.
AFP-verified footage shot early Friday showed protesters hiding behind sandbag barricades wielding homemade rifles, as explosions could be heard in the background.
A resident said that the military crackdown killed at least 40 protesters, and authorities refused to let rescue workers remove the bodies.
“They piled up all the dead bodies, loaded them into their army truck and drove it away,” he said, adding that authorities then proceeded to arrest people around the community.
Local media reports have put the death toll for Bago’s crackdown at far higher.
The junta had branded the victims of anti-coup unrest “violent terrorist people,” putting the total death toll since February 1 at 248, according to a spokesman Friday.
Despite the daily bloodshed, protesters have continued to take to the streets, with dawn strikes sprouting across the country Saturday.
Demonstrators are also manifesting their discontent in pointedly creative ways.
In commercial hub Yangon, crimson paint – representing the blood already spilled – was splashed across the streets in view of the historic Shwedagon Pagoda.
“Let us unite and boldly show in red that the dictatorial regime will not be allowed to rule us at all,” a student activist announced on Facebook.
Flyers with the words “They will not rule us” were scattered across Yangon neighborhoods.
In Mandalay, activists pasted the same flyers on the statue of General Aung San.
The father of Suu Kyi, he is a national hero who is widely regarded as having wrested Myanmar from under the yoke of British colonialism.
Suu Kyi is currently facing a series of charges from the junta – including accusations of corruption and for having unregistered walkie-talkies.
The military has repeatedly justified seizing power by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November’s elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.


India’s COVID-19 infections hit another record

Updated 10 April 2021

India’s COVID-19 infections hit another record

  • India’s overall case load has swelled to 13.21 million, the third-highest globally
  • The government blames the resurgence mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks
NEW DELHI: India reported a record 145,384 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday and the highest number of deaths in more than five months, as it grapples with an overwhelming second-wave of infections that has forced the state of Maharashtra to impose a weekend lockdown.
Deaths rose by 794 to a total of 168,436, health ministry data showed.
India’s overall case load has swelled to 13.21 million, the third-highest globally, behind the United States and Brazil. India has reported the most number of cases in the world in the past week, breaching the 100,000 mark for the first time on Monday and four times after that.
The government blames the resurgence mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks as businesses have nearly fully reopened since February, only to be partially shut again to control the current surge.
Maharashtra, the Indian state with the most cases, has already shut down restaurants, malls and places of worship and barred the movement of most people to control the outbreak that has threatened to overrun medical facilities and created vaccine shortages, officials said. Its weekend lockdown will end on early Monday.
In India’s financial capital Mumbai, hundreds of poor migrant workers crammed onto trains this week to flee the city, potentially risking a wider outbreak in smaller towns and villages.
The railways department denied people were fleeing cities because of the surge, calling it a usual rush this time of year because of holidays and as workers move to harvest crops.
Many states, meanwhile, have complained of a shortage of vaccines.

Coronavirus lockdowns around the world as vaccine efforts stumble

Updated 10 April 2021

Coronavirus lockdowns around the world as vaccine efforts stumble

  • Maharashtra’s 125 million people will be confined to their homes unless traveling or shopping for food or medicine
  • Argentina entered a night-time curfew Friday running from midnight to 06:00 a.m. every day until April 30

MUMBAI: Fresh lockdowns and curfews were imposed on tens of millions of people from India to Argentina on Saturday, as COVID-19 infections surged again and vaccine roll-outs were hampered by shortages and scares over side effects.
In India, the worst-hit state of Maharashtra was running out of vaccines as the health system buckled under the weight of the contagion, which has killed 2.9 million people worldwide.
Having let its guard down with mass religious festivals, political rallies and spectators at cricket matches, the world’s second-most populous nation has added more than a million new infections since late March.
Every weekend from Saturday until the end of April, Maharashtra’s 125 million people will be confined to their homes unless traveling or shopping for food or medicine.
“I’m not for the lockdown at all but I don’t think the government has any other choice,” media professional Neha Tyagi, 27, said in Maharashtra’s megacity Mumbai.
“This lockdown could have been totally avoided if people would take the virus seriously.”
The crisis is being exacerbated by a shortage of vaccines.
India has so far inoculated 94 million of its 1.3 billion people, but The Times of India reported Friday that states on average had just over five days of stock left, citing health ministry data, with some regions already grappling with severe shortages.
Stay-at-home orders were also set to come into force for the eight million inhabitants of Bogota, as the Colombian capital battled a third wave of infections, adding to curfews already covering seven million across four other major cities.
Elsewhere in South America, Argentina entered a night-time curfew Friday running from midnight to 06:00 a.m. every day until April 30.
It will be in force in the country’s highest-risk areas, mainly urban centers, where bars and restaurants will close at 11:00 p.m.
Both Argentina and Colombia have recorded about 2.5 million coronavirus cases, numbers surpassed only by Brazil in the region.
All of France is subject to restrictions of some form, while the German government’s attempts to curb movement and commerce have been stymied by several states refusing to go along with the proposals.
Now Berlin is changing the rules to centralize power, adjustments likely to usher in night-time curfews and some school closures in especially hard-hit areas.
But some countries were in the process of opening up.
Italy was set to end lockdowns from next week for Lombardy, the epicenter of its coronavirus pandemic, and several other regions with improving contagion statistics.
Neighboring Slovenia announced it would ease coronavirus restrictions and suspend a six-month-long curfew starting Monday.


US to keep migrant families in hotels as amid rush for space

Updated 10 April 2021

US to keep migrant families in hotels as amid rush for space

  • Migrant families will generally stay less than 72 hours for processing
  • Mexico has resisted taking back Central American families with young children

Migrant families will be held at hotels in the Phoenix area in response to a growing number of people crossing the US-Mexico border, authorities said Friday, another step in the Biden administration’s rush to set up temporary space for them.
US Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was told that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement will occupy “several hotels along the southwest border, including in Chandler and Phoenix,” her office said in a statement. Chandler is a Phoenix suburb that’s more than 150 miles (241 kilometers) north of the border.
ICE declined to identify specific hotels and locations, saying only that its $86.9 million contract announced last month with Endeavors Inc. will provide about 1,200 hotel beds in Texas and Arizona. Migrant families will generally stay less than 72 hours for processing.
The contract says the San Antonio-based provider of veterans care, disaster relief and migrant services already has beds available at hotels in Chandler and the Texas cities of El Paso and Cotulla, southwest of San Antonio. The first families to be housed in hotels under the contract were set to arrive Friday.
Sinema’s office said the Democratic senator spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and will hold him “accountable for protecting Arizona communities and ensuring all migrants are treated fairly and humanely.”
The Border Patrol encountered 52,904 families along the Mexican border last month, up from 19,286 in February and 3,455 in March 2020. The Endeavors contract says authorities anticipate the highest number of family arrivals in 20 years during the 12-month period ending Sept. 30.
Only about one in three families encountered last month was quickly expelled from the US under federal pandemic-related powers that deny people a chance to seek asylum. Immigration authorities have been releasing families with children 6 and younger into the country while their cases are decided.
Mexico also has resisted taking back Central American families with young children, especially in Tamaulipas state bordering Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. The US flies some families to other border cities – San Diego and El Paso – to be expelled to Mexico from there.
To save time, the Border Patrol has been releasing migrant families – about 9,600 people as of Tuesday, according to US Rep. Henry Cuellar – without notices to appear in court. Instead, they’re told to report to an ICE office in 60 days.
The contract with Endeavors comes as the administration is scrambling for more space to hold families and unaccompanied children. The Border Patrol picked up nearly 19,000 children traveling alone last month, its highest monthly total on record.
The US Department of Health and Human Services – which places unaccompanied children with “sponsors,” most often parents and close relatives – has found space in convention centers, military bases and other large venues. Los Angeles County officials said Friday that its fairgrounds will be used to temporarily house up to 2,500 unaccompanied children.
Lawyers representing immigrant children in longstanding federal litigation over custody conditions raised concerns on Friday that Health and Human Services isn’t moving quickly enough to release the minors to sponsors. Without doing that, so long as border authorities continue detaining children at this pace, “it is difficult to see how a proliferation of overcrowded, irregular facilities can possibly be avoided,” the attorneys wrote in a court filing.
Government lawyers wrote in court papers that Health and Human Services’ office of refugee resettlement is ramping up efforts at recently-opened sites to quickly reunite these children with their families.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican and frequent Biden critic, asked the administration to close a holding facility for unaccompanied children at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, citing allegations that they aren’t getting enough to eat and boys are unsupervised in showers.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the administration takes the “safety and the well-being of children in our care very seriously” and that authorities would investigate Abbott’s claims, but that, at this point, “we have no basis for his call” to shut down the facility.