Philippines lifts deadline for foreigners to leave amid coronavirus quarantine

Philippine officials initially asked foreign travelers, including tourists, to leave Luzon within 72 hours because all flights from the region would eventually be suspended. (AFP)
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Updated 18 March 2020

Philippines lifts deadline for foreigners to leave amid coronavirus quarantine

  • The month-long quarantine declared by President Rodrigo Duterte requires people to stay mostly at home
  • Philippine officials initially asked foreign travelers, including tourists, to leave Luzon within 72 hours

MANILA, Philippines: The Philippines lifted a deadline for thousands of foreign travelers to leave the northern third of the country, including the capital, after quarantining the region due to an increase in coronavirus infections, officials said Wednesday.
The month-long quarantine declared by President Rodrigo Duterte requires people to stay mostly at home and restricts land, air and sea travel for one month on Luzon, the main and most populated island in the archipelago of more than 100 million people. But the restrictions caused initial confusion and traffic jams, and the suspension of public transport stranded many health workers and emergency personnel.
Philippine officials initially asked foreign travelers, including tourists, to leave Luzon within 72 hours because all flights from the region would eventually be suspended. An inter-agency group dealing with the health crisis, however, said the deadline had been lifted and foreigners could leave Luzon anytime.
“We don’t want to give them pressure because it’ll be more difficult for them, so we opened up,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles told a late-evening televised news conference.
Any foreign travelers in Luzon may face limited options for staying as mass transportation was suspended and more businesses decide to close. Some airlines have canceled international flights, complicating the problems of outbound travelers.
A medical student from India, Abhishek Mishari, said he and dozens of fellow Indian students wanted to go home but could not because of virus-related restrictions in India. “We’re just stuck here ... we are just afraid of coronavirus spreading over here,” the 22-year-old told The Associated Press outside Manila’s international airport.
The Philippines has reported 187 cases of infection with the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the Department of Health, which confirmed Tuesday that one of its officials was among those sickened. Fourteen people have died, the most in Southeast Asia.
While the virus can be deadly, particularly for the elderly and people with other health problems, for most people it causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. Some feel no symptoms at all and the vast majority of people recover.
The drastic moves announced by Duterte on Monday night caught many by surprise.
Hundreds of taxis were stopped by police along metropolitan Manila’s main EDSA highway for violating the transport ban and made to wait for hours in long rows on the sidelines. Many drivers said they were unaware of the ban and were eventually allowed to leave without fines.
“I’m the breadwinner of my family. If I don’t work for a month, will the government help me put food on our table, pay our house rent and our bills?” asked one of the taxi drivers, Jun Vergara. “We support this lockdown but we want to know if the government will help us survive it.”
Only one member of a family can leave home to buy food, officials said, but many establishments were closed Tuesday and long lines of people waited in front of supermarkets in metropolitan Manila.
Police and army troops stopped traffic at checkpoints to see if motorists had fevers and if they were among those allowed under quarantine rules to be out of their homes. Some argued heatedly with law enforcers after being stopped and ordered to go back.
Health workers and other employees allowed to report for work complained there were no buses or passenger jeeps to take them to work. Army trucks were later deployed to ferry them, officials said.
“These are first-day kinks. We’ll fix them,” Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said.
Aside from the containment effort, Duterte declared all of the Philippines in a state of calamity for six months to allow the faster release of emergency funds.


Van Gogh painting stolen from Dutch museum during virus shutdown

Updated 30 March 2020

Van Gogh painting stolen from Dutch museum during virus shutdown

  • The 1884 painting, titled the ‘Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring,’ was taken during a pre-dawn break-in at the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam
  • The criminals smashed through a glass door and then took the painting, which is valued at up to €6 million

THE HAGUE: Thieves stole a painting by Dutch master Vincent van Gogh early Monday in a daring heist from a museum that was closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 1884 painting, titled the “Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring,” was taken during a pre-dawn break-in at the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam.
The criminals smashed through a glass door and then took the painting, which is valued at up to €6 million ($6.6 million).
“I am shocked and unbelievably annoyed this theft has happened,” Jan Rudolph de Lorm, one of the museum’s directors, told a press conference.
“Art is there to be seen, to be enjoyed, to inspire and to bring solace, particularly in these troubled times in which we find ourselves,” De Lorm said.
The theft happened on what would have been the 167th birthday of the brilliant yet troubled artist.
“Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring” comes from relatively early on in Van Gogh’s career, before the prolific artist embarked on his trademark post-impressionist paintings such as “Sunflowers” and his vivid self-portraits.
The painting was on loan from its owners, the Groninger Museum in the north of the Netherlands, as part of an exhibition.
The Singer Laren museum closed two weeks ago in compliance with Dutch government measures aimed at tackling the spread of COVID-19.
Dutch police said the criminals had broken in at around 3:15 am (0115 GMT).
“Police officers immediately rushed to the scene but the perpetrators had escaped,” Dutch police said in a statement, appealing for witnesses.
The painting has an estimated value of between one million and six million euros, Dutch art detective Arthur Brand said.
“The hunt is on,” said Brand, who is known for recovering stolen Nazi art including “Hitler’s Horses.”
It was the third time the famous Dutch master’s works have been targeted in the Netherlands since the 1990s, Brand said.
“To me this looks like the work of a copycat,” Brand told AFP, adding the modus operandi was similar to the other two cases.
“The thieves only went for a Van Gogh, while there are other works too in the museum,” he said.
Asked whether he thought there was enough security at the museum Brand said “it is very difficult to say.”
“Securing a painting is very difficult. It is something that has to be displayed for people to see,” he said.
The museum’s 3,000 pieces also include works by Dutch abstract master Piet Mondrian and Dutch-Indonesian painter Jan Toorop, as well as a casting of “The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin.
Singer Laren was targeted in 2007 when thieves stole a number of castings from its gardens including “The Thinker,” Dutch media reports said. The castings were recovered two days later.
Two Van Gogh masterpieces went back on display at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum last year after they were stolen from the museum in 2002.
The paintings — the 1882 ” View of the Sea at Scheveningen” and the 1884/5 “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen” — were recovered by Italian investigators in September 2016 when they raided a home belonging to an infamous mafia drug baron near Naples.
Previously three Van Goghs that were stolen from the Noordbrabants Museum in 1990 later resurfaced when a notorious Dutch criminal made a deal with prosecutors.