India puts 30,000 in lockdown after preacher dies of virus

A volunteer sprays disinfectant on a policeman at a street during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Amritsar on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 30 March 2020

India puts 30,000 in lockdown after preacher dies of virus

  • Sikh leader ignored order to self-isolate after 16-day trip to Europe, authorities say

NEW DELHI: More than 30,000 people have been quarantined in 20 villages in the northern Indian state of Punjab after coming into contact with a Sikh religious leader who died after being infected by the coronavirus, officials said on Sunday.

Baldev Singh, 70, returned to India on March 7 after attending religious events during a 16-day trip to Italy and Germany.
After his return, he was asked to go into self-isolation, but reportedly defied the orders and is believed to have died on March 18.
Vinay Bublani, deputy commissioner of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar district, told Arab News on Sunday that there was no explanation for Singh’s refusal to self-isolate.“
What I understand is that he was asymptomatic and did not show any symptoms of infection,” Bublani said.
Some media reports suggest that Singh continued to attend religious functions despite developing symptoms associated with the coronavirus.
Between March 10-12, he attended the Halla Mohallaa, in Punjab’s Anantpur Saheb district, which draws tens of thousands of people, and also visited individual houses to recite religious texts and scriptures afterwards.
Health authorities in Punjab said that the state has almost 40 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 23 of the victims reportedly infected after coming in contact with Singh.
Elsewhere in India, authorities said the number of infections is nearing 1,000 with 25 deaths reported.
The government is concentrating on virus hotspots in the country, including Punjab, following the latest developments in the state.
After his death on March 18, 19 of Singh’s close relatives tested positive for the illness, with four others reportedly infected.
“We tested hundreds of people and, later on, decided to quarantine the entire area consisting of 20 villages and with a population of more than 30,000 people.
No one isallowed to come out of their village,” Bublani said.
However, he warned that self-quarantine is proving difficult to enforce. “People don’t take it seriously. They have been defiant. That’s why the lockdown has been imposed,” he added.


• Between March 10-12, Baldev Singh attended the Halla Mohallaa, which draws tens of thousands of people.

• Health authorities in Punjab said that the state has almost 40 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 23 of the victims reportedly infected after coming in contact with Singh.

Singh’s death and his unrestricted movement have alarmed the state government, which has asked police to take “strict legal action against those violating home quarantine orders.”
Political analyst Maneesh Chibber told Arab News that authorities face an uphill task.“
In Punjab, you have many socio-religious organizations and sects, and they are powerful. They have strong political connections and cannot be held accountable for their excesses,” he said.
The state government has made it mandatory for anyone arriving from overseas in the past month to report to health officials.
On Tuesday, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said that “an estimated 97,000 people have arrived in Punjab since early January, while more than 30,000 have been asked to self-quarantine.”
The government also launched an app named Cova to trace residents who had returned to Punjab but not registered their entry.
Apart from providing information on the disease, the app prompts users to inform authorities about their return from an overseas trip.“
We need to do our best to track all the suspected cases so that we can contain the spread of the virus,” Bublani said.
A senior state health official, who requested anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the media, told Arab News on Sunday that “thermal screening at airports is not enough to identify positive patients.”
The state health department is also trying to trace 144 people who returned from abroad but provided false addresses to airport authorities.

Philippines cracks down on clandestine COVID-19 clinics

Updated 29 May 2020

Philippines cracks down on clandestine COVID-19 clinics

  • Intelligence, immigration officials investigating illegal facilities that catered mostly to foreigners

MANILA: The Philippines has intensified its crackdown on uncertified medical facilities offering treatment to people, particularly foreigners, with COVID-19 symptoms.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to help the Philippine National Police (PNP) track down foreign nationals behind the illegal clinics.
“It seems that clandestine medical clinics catering mostly to foreign nationals have sprouted and have been operating without proper authority,” Guevarra told reporters.
He said the facilities could have compromised the health of those who had undergone treatment.
“I’ll therefore ask the NBI and the BI to help the police in locating other similar underground clinics and the people running them, and if warranted, to file the appropriate charges against them,” he added.
Guevarra issued the order following a raid on Tuesday on an illegal clinic catering to Chinese patients in Makati City. Arrested in the operation were Chinese nationals Dr. David Lai, 49, and Liao Bruce, 41.
The clinic was reportedly operating without a permit, while the arrested did not have a license to practice medicine in the country.
Seized from the site were swab sticks, vials, syringes and boxes of medicine with Chinese labels — believed to be unregistered with the Food and Drug Administration.
Last week, law enforcers also swooped on a makeshift hospital for Chinese patients in the Fontana Leisure Park in Clark, Pampanga province.
The raid came after police received information that a COVID-19 patient was “undergoing medical attention” in a Fontana villa.
Arrested during the raid were Chinese nationals Liu Wei, who reportedly supervised the facility, and Hu Shiling, allegedly a pharmacist. Both were released on the same day without charge.
Immigration officials on Thursday said the duo had been placed on their watch list to prevent them from leaving the country while an investigation is underway.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said intelligence operatives will trace four of the patients, and are looking into the case of the Chinese nationals arrested in Makati.
“I’ve instructed our intelligence division to investigate if these alleged Chinese doctors are legally staying in the country,” he said.
“Should we find they violated our immigration laws, they’ll be charged with deportation cases before our law and investigation division,” he added.
“Even if no criminal charges were filed against them, they can be charged for immigration law violations if we can establish that they violated the conditions of their stay in the country.”
If criminal charges are filed, however, the BI will only deport them after their cases have been resolved or they have served their sentences, if convicted.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros called for the “immediate deportation and blacklisting” of the Chinese nationals because of their “blatant disregard of our laws.”
She added that while the Philippines is working hard to protect its people from the virus, “these criminals freely roam and pose a danger to public health.”