Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

The reimposition of strict lockdowns has raised concerns the Philippine economy will take longer to recover from last year’s worst slump on record. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 11 April 2021

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

  • Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30
  • The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia

MANILA: Strict COVID-19 lockdowns in the Philippines capital and four adjacent provinces will be eased from April 12, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday.
Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30, spokesman Harry Roque told a virtual briefing.
Roque gave the briefing from hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19. He gave no details on which restrictions will be eased but said details would be released on Monday.
The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, with hospitals in the capital overwhelmed amid record daily infections, while authorities face delays in delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
On Sunday, the Department of Health recorded 11,681 new COVID-19 cases and 201 more deaths, bringing the country’s tallies to 864,868 confirmed infections and 14,945 fatalities.
New cases have surge in recent weeks, surpassing 15,000 on April 2, most of those in the congested capital.
Last week, Duterte canceled a weekly televised address and a meeting with his coronavirus task force as some of his staff and security detail were found to be COVID-19 positive.
Roque and Duterte’s defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana, also tested positive.
Roque said the government will work to increase the number of COVID-19 beds in health care facilities and free up more room in hospitals.
Under the current quarantine classification for Manila and surrounding areas, non-essential movement is banned, along with mass gatherings and dining in restaurants, with longer-than-usual curfews also in place since March 29.
The reimposition of strict lockdowns has raised concerns the economy will take longer to recover from last year’s worst slump on record.


Blinken on official visit issues veiled critique on Indian democracy, rights

Updated 28 July 2021

Blinken on official visit issues veiled critique on Indian democracy, rights

  • Rights groups say civil liberties and dissent under increasing attack in world's biggest democracy under Modi
  • The government denies cracking down on criticism and says people of all religions have equal rights

NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a veiled warning Wednesday about Indian democracy backsliding in his first official visit to Washington's important ally.

Rights groups say civil liberties and the space for dissent are under increasing attack in the world's biggest democracy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

Blinken told a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar that the US and India "take seriously our responsibility to deliver freedom, equality and opportunity to all of our people."

But he added that "we know that we must constantly do more on these fronts, and neither of us has achieved the ideals that we set for ourselves."

Democracies should "always seek to strengthen our democratic institutions, expand access to justice and opportunity, stand up forcefully for fundamental freedoms," Blinken said.

Under Modi, India has made growing use of anti-terrorism legislation and "sedition" laws to arrest campaigners, journalists, students and others, critics say.

The Hindu nationalist administration has also brought in legislation that detractors say discriminates against India's 170-million-strong Muslim minority.

The government denies cracking down on criticism and says people of all religions have equal rights.

Behind closed doors, Indian officials were expected to express alarm over Taliban gains in Afghanistan and to press Blinken for more support in the border standoff with China.

US-India relations have historically been prickly but China's growing assertiveness has pushed them closer, particularly since deadly clashes last year on the disputed Indo-Chinese Himalayan frontier.

But according to Brahma Chellaney, strategic affairs expert at India's Centre for Policy Research, US backing has "slipped a notch" since Joe Biden took over from Donald Trump as president in January.

"India is locked in a military standoff with China but unlike top Trump administration officials who publicly condemned China's aggression and backed India, no one in Team Biden has so far lent open support to India," Chellaney told AFP.

Biden has further riled New Delhi with Washington's "rushed and poorly planned exit from Afghanistan", Chellaney added.

India is worried that a possible takeover by the Taliban, which it sees as backed by its arch-rival Pakistan, will turn the country into a base for militants to attack India.

India, a firm backer of the Afghan government with billions of dollars in development aid, recently evacuated 50 staff from its Kandahar consulate due to the worsening security situation.

Blinken told the news conference that despite withdrawing troops, the United States "remain very engaged" in support of the beleaguered Afghan government, providing security support and other assistance.

"There has to be a peaceful resolution which requires the Taliban and the Afghan government to come to the table," Blinken added.

Afghanistan after a Taliban takeover would be a "pariah state," he said.

India is part of the Quad alliance with the United States, Japan and Australia, seen as a bulwark against China.

Blinken and Jaishankar sought to blunt Chinese criticism of the grouping, with Blinken saying it was not a "military alliance".

"Its purpose... is just to advance cooperation on regional challenges while reinforcing international rules and values that we believe together underpin peace, prosperity and stability in the region," Blinken said.

Jaishankar said that "people need to get over the idea that somehow other countries doing things is directed against them. I think countries do things (that) are in their interest for their good and for the good of the world, and that is exactly what is the case with the Quad."

The talks in a monsoon-soaked New Delhi were also set to cover joint efforts on making Covid-19 vaccines and climate change.


England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt

Updated 28 July 2021

England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt

  • "We're helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends," Transport Minister Grant Shapps tweeted
  • Separate rules will continue to apply for those arriving from France

LONDON: People fully vaccinated in the United States and European Union — except France — will be allowed to travel to England without having to quarantine on arrival, the UK government announced on Wednesday.
“We’re helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends,” Transport Minister Grant Shapps tweeted, adding that the policy will come into force from 4:00 am (0300 GMT) on August 2.
Travelers fully jabbed with a vaccine approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Agency will be able to travel from any country on the British government’s “amber” traffic light list without having to self-isolate at home for 10 days.
They will still need to do a pre-departure test and take another test on day two after arriving in England.
Separate rules will continue to apply for those arriving from France.
Those traveling from an amber list country, which includes most of Europe and the US, who are not fully vaccinated will still have to quarantine on arrival.
The government also confirmed the restart of international cruises.
“This is progress we can all enjoy,” wrote Shapps.
Britain is in the midst of another wave of the virus due to the so-called delta variant, although case numbers have dropped over the past week, while its vaccine drive has seen more than 70 percent of adults fully jabbed.
The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own health policies, and decide their own foreign travel rules.


Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

Updated 28 July 2021

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

  • Relocation scheme to bring to Britain former colleagues who risked their lives is “inadequate,” letter warns

LONDON: Former high-profile British defense figures have urged the expansion of a relocation initiative for Afghan interpreters who supported Britain’s role in the country’s conflict, after it emerged that hundreds were denied the right to live in the UK.
The group raised “grave concerns” in a letter to The Times newspaper that the UK scheme was inadequate in protecting Afghans who risked their lives to help coalition forces in the conflict with the Taliban.
The letter includes the signatures of six former heads of the armed forces, and in total was signed by 45 former military officers and officials.
It urged British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider the scheme, warning: “It is not being conducted with the required spirit of generosity and urgency.”
The initiative, formally titled the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, was launched this year to urgently relocate Afghans — who previously worked for British forces as interpreters —   to the UK amid a NATO withdrawal from the war-torn country.
In past years, more than 2,200 Afghans and their families arrived in Britain.
But through the letter, the former military figures raised urgent concerns that too many relocation applications had been “unreasonably rejected” by UK officials.
It read: “The UK should be as generous and welcoming as we know it can be. These individuals have stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We must now do the same for them.”
Other campaigners have also joined the campaign in urging the government to update the scheme. The Sulha Alliance, which was founded to promote the relocation of former Afghan interpreters, warned that policy should be “more generous.”
About 450 Afghans who worked for British forces told the alliance that their applications had been formally rejected, Ed Aitken, a former captain and co-founder of the group, said.
One former interpreter who was rejected, Muhammad, 30, warned that “it is only a matter of time before the Taliban find and kill me.”
He said that he was being “left behind to die after being denied sanctuary in the UK.
“I am sure I will suffer the same fate as interpreters before me and be beheaded.”
But despite his warnings, as well as personal recommendations from British commanders, his application has been continuously denied by officials.


Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity

Updated 28 July 2021

Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity

  • Federal Prosecutor's Office said Alla Mousa is accused of 18 counts of torturing people in military hospitals in Syria
  • Prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes to bring the case that involved victims and defendants in Germany

BERLIN: A Syrian doctor has been charged in Germany with crimes against humanity for allegedly torturing people in military hospitals in his homeland and killing one of them, German federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Karlsruhe said in a statement that Alla Mousa, who came to Germany in 2015 and practiced medicine before he was arrested last year, is accused of 18 counts of torturing people in military hospitals in the Syrian cities of Homs and Damascus. The allegations include charges that Mousa tried to make people infertile.
A federal indictment charged him with murder, severe bodily harm, attempted bodily harm and dangerous bodily harm, the statement said.
Prosecutors said after the beginning of the opposition uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011, protesters were frequently arrested and tortured. Injured civilians who were thought to be members of the opposition were also taken to military hospitals, where they were tortured and sometimes killed.
In February, a German court convicted a former member of Assad’s secret police of facilitating the torture of prisoners in a landmark ruling that human rights activists said would set a precedent for other cases in the decade-long conflict.
Eyad Al-Gharib was convicted of accessory to crimes against humanity and sentenced by the Koblenz state court to 4 1/2 years in prison.
It was the first time that a court outside Syria ruled in a case alleging Syrian government officials committed crimes against humanity. German prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes to bring the case that involved victims and defendants in Germany.
In the current case, prosecutors accuse the Syrian doctor of having poured alcohol over the genitals of a teenage boy and another man and setting fire to them with a cigarette lighter at military hospital No. 608 in Homs. He is also accused of torturing nine more people in the same hospital in 2011 by kicking and beating them.
The indictment also alleges that Mousa kicked and beat a jailed man who was suffering an epileptic seizure. A few days later, the doctor gave the man a medication and he subsequently died without the exact cause of death ever clearly being identified, German prosecutors said.
The indictment lists other cases of alleged torture at the military hospital in Homs, including hanging people from the ceiling and beating them with a plastic baton, and pouring flammable liquids over the hand of one of them and burning it. Mousa also is accused of kicking another patient’s open, infected wound, pouring disinfectant into it and setting it on fire.
In one case in 2012, Mousa allegedly beat and kicked an inmate severely. When the man defended himself by kicking back, Mousa beat him to the ground with the help of a male nurse and shortly after administered a toxic substance that killed the inmate, German prosecutors allege.
In addition to the torture allegations at the military hospital in Homs, Mousa is also accused of abusing inmates at the military hospital Mezzeh No. 601 in Damascus between late 2011 and March 2012.


China tells Taliban expects group to play ‘important’ Afghan peace role

Updated 28 July 2021

China tells Taliban expects group to play ‘important’ Afghan peace role

  • Nine Taliban representatives met Foreign Minister Wang Yi in northern Chinese city of Tianjin on a two-day visit
  • China says hopes Taliban will crack down on militants active in Xinjiang posing "direct threat to China’s national security"

KABUL: China told a visiting Taliban delegation on Wednesday it expected the insurgent group to play an important role in ending Afghanistan’s war and rebuilding the country, the Chinese foreign ministry said.
Nine Taliban representatives met Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin on a two-day visit during which the peace process and security issues were discussed, a Taliban spokesperson said.
Wang said the Taliban is expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan,” according to a readout of the meeting from the foreign ministry.
He also said that he hoped the Taliban would crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as it was a “direct threat to China’s national security,” according to the readout, referring to a group China says is active in the Xinjiang region in China’s far west.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (right) greets Taliban negotiator and deputy leader Mullah Baradar Akhund (left) in China on July 28, 2021. (Photo courtesy: @MFA_China/Twitter)

The visit was likely to further cement the insurgent group’s recognition on the international stage at a sensitive time even as violence increases in Afghanistan. The militants have a political office in Qatar where peace talks are taking place and this month sent representatives to Iran where they had meetings with an Afghan government delegation.
“Politics, economy and issues related to the security of both countries and the current situation of Afghanistan and the peace process were discussed in the meetings,” Taliban spokesperson Mohammed Naeem tweeted about the China visit.
Naeem added that the group, led by Taliban negotiator and deputy leader Mullah Baradar Akhund, was also meeting China’s special envoy for Afghanistan and that the trip took place after an invitation from Chinese authorities.
Security in Afghanistan, with which China shares a border, has been deteriorating fast as the United States withdraws its troops by September. The Taliban has launched a flurry of offensives, taking districts and border crossings around the country while peace talks in Qatar’s capital have not made substantive progress.
“(The) delegation assured China that they will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China,” Naeem said. “China also reiterated its commitment of continuation of their assistance with Afghans and said they will not interfere in Afghanistan’s issues but will help to solve the problems and restoration of peace in the country.”