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.


Kabul begins freeing Taliban

Newly freed Taliban prisoners walk at Pul-e-Charkhi prison, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 13, 2020. Picture taken August 13, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2020

Kabul begins freeing Taliban

  • Release of final 400 inmates was approved by traditional Afghan grand assembly

KABUL: After months of delay, Afghanistan’s government has started releasing the last 400 Taliban inmates in its custody, clearing the way for long-awaited peace talks, officials confirmed on Friday.

Eighty of the 400 were set free on Thursday and, according to the government, more will be freed in the coming days. The release was a condition to begin intra-Afghan negotiations to end 19 years of conflict in the war-torn country. The talks, already delayed twice, are expected to take place in Qatar once the release process is complete.
“The release was to speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide cease-fire,” the Afghan National Security Council said in a statement accompanied by video footage showing former Taliban inmates calling on insurgent leaders and the government to engage in peace talks.
The prisoner release follows an agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in Qatar in February that stipulated the exchange of prisoners between President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the militants, who have gained ground in recent years.
The process, involving 5,000 Taliban detainees held by Kabul and 1,000 security forces imprisoned by the militants, was slated to begin in early March and should have been followed by an intra-Afghan dialogue.
Ghani, initially resistant to the idea of freeing the Taliban inmates, began to release them under US pressure. Some 4,600 Taliban inmates were freed over the few past months, but Ghani refused to free the remaining 400, arguing they were behind major deadly attacks and that setting them free was outside his authority.
Faced by mounting pressure, after Eid Al-Adha holidays two weeks ago, the president vowed to summon a traditional grand assembly, the Loya Jirga, to help him decide if the remaining Taliban inmates should be freed or not.

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Footage showing men in uniforms mutilating the bodies of purported Taliban members went viral on social media this week, raising concerns that violence between security forces and the militants may impede the peace process despite the prisoner release.

Last week, the assembly approved the release, which is now underway and expected to be followed by the peace talks, in accordance with the US-Taliban deal.
The process, however, coincides with a spike in violence in the country and mutual accusations of an increase in assaults by the Taliban and Afghan government forces.
On Thursday, the Defense Ministry said it was probing a video circulating on social media showing men in army uniforms mutilating the bodies of purported Taliban fighters.
The UN requested that the incident be investigated. It remains unclear when and where it took place.
The Taliban, in a statement, said the bodies of their fighters were mutilated in the Arghandab district of the Zabul province.
Concerns are rising that similar acts of violence will further delay the peace process.
“Let us hope that this video does not become part of revenge-taking between the two sides and affect the process of peace. It is really unfortunate,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal told Arab News.
“As the violence continues, we see more brutal and shocking tactics from the sides and examples of revenge-taking, and that is very worrying and impacts any trust in a peace process,” Shaharzad Akbar, the chief of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, said in a Twitter post on Thursday.
“It is on the leadership of the two sides to have clear messages to their fighters to avoid war crimes and actions that further the instinct for revenge that will make the reconciliation that should come out of a peace process difficult,” she added.

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