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.


Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

Updated 18 min 12 sec ago

Leading Hong Kong activists charged for Tiananmen vigil gathering

  • Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown
  • China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage

HONG KONG: Thirteen prominent Hong Kong democracy activists appeared in court on Monday charged with holding an unauthorized gathering to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown, the latest in a string of prosecutions against protest leaders in the restless financial hub.
Last month tens of thousands of Hong Kongers defied a ban on rallies to mark the June 4 anniversary of Beijing’s deadly 1989 crackdown against students pushing for democracy.
The annual vigil has been held in Hong Kong for the last three decades and usually attracts huge crowds. It has taken on particular significance in recent years as the semi-autonomous city chafes under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
This year’s vigil was banned for the first time with authorities citing coronavirus measures. At the time local transmission had largely been halted.
But thousands turned out to hold candles in their neighborhoods and in Victoria Park, the traditional site of the vigil.
Police later arrested 13 leading activists who appeared at the Victoria Park vigil.
All appeared in court on Monday to be formally charged with “inciting” an unlawful assembly, which carries up to five years in jail.
Among them are Jimmy Lai, the millionaire owner of the openly pro-democracy Apple newspaper, veteran democracy activists such as Lee Cheuk-yan and Albert Ho as well as young campaigner Figo Chan.
When asked if he understood the charge, Lee invoked the hundreds who were killed by Chinese tanks and soldiers at Tiananmen.
“This is political persecution,” he said. “The real incitement is the massacre conducted by the Chinese Communist Party 31 years ago.”
Some of those charged on Monday — and many other leading democracy figures — face separate prosecutions related to last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
China’s leaders have rejected calls to give Hong Kongers universal suffrage and portrayed the protests as a plot by foreigners to destabilize the motherland.
Earlier this month Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law aimed at stamping out the protests once and for all.
The law targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion, with sentences including life in prison.
But its broad phrasing — such as a ban on encouraging hatred toward China’s government — has sent fear rippling through a city used to being able to speak its mind.
Police have arrested people for possessing pro-independence or autonomy material, libraries and schools have pulled books, political parties have disbanded and one prominent opposition politician has fled.
The law bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and its contents were kept secret until the moment it was enacted.
It empowered China’s security apparatus to set up shop openly in Hong Kong for the first time, while Beijing has also claimed jurisdiction for some serious national security cases — ending the legal firewall between the mainland the city’s independent judiciary.
China has also announced global jurisdiction to pursue national security crimes committed by anyone outside of Hong Kong and China, including foreigners.