Afghanistan reopens borders with Iran despite virus threat 

Thousands of Afghan refugees re-enter Afghanistan at the Islam Qala border crossing with Iran, in western Herat Province, March 18, 2020. (AP Photo)
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Updated 31 March 2020

Afghanistan reopens borders with Iran despite virus threat 

  • Afghanistan said it would keep its main crossings open as, otherwise, returnees would reenter through illegal routes, increasing the risk of contamination
  • On average, at least 10,000 refugees have returned from Iran to Afghanistan every day over the past month through the official border crossing in western Herat province

KABUL: While other nations have sealed their borders with Iran to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Afghanistan said on Monday that it would keep its main crossings open as, otherwise, returnees would reenter through illegal routes, increasing the risk of contamination.

“The fundamental problem is the unofficial crossing points … the reason the border is open allows us to check people who come through, since we have medical measures in place for checking all, and can separate and quarantine those who are affected,” Faisal Javid, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani’s national security adviser, told Arab News.

He added that if the official routes were sealed, people would use illegal crossings and “anyone contaminated” could enter the country undetected.

“Therefore, for the time being, the decision is to keep the border open,” Javid said.

So far, 141 people have tested positive for the virus in Afghanistan, with at least four deaths reported in the past month, officials told Arab News on Monday.

They added that the virus was brought to Afghanistan by economic migrants fleeing Iran for two significant reasons.

“When the outbreak began in Iran, Afghan economic migrants started to flee, what with joblessness in Iran and the state of the economy,” a ministry official, requesting anonymity, told Arab News on Monday.

On average, at least 10,000 refugees have returned from Iran to Afghanistan every day over the past month through the official border crossing in western Herat province, Abdul Basit Ansari, a spokesman for the Ministry of Repatriations of Refugees, told Arab News.

“The returnees are largely coming home voluntarily, while a few are forced to return,” he added.

Due to the vast border which Afghanistan shares with Iran, the returnees have been using two official crossings to enter the country. Closing them is out of the question, officials said.

“Suppose if we closed the border — these people would have come in big numbers (with the help of) human traffickers via illegal routes that would have caused far more positive cases, danger and deaths in Afghanistan,” Waheed Mayar, a Public Health Ministry spokesman, told Arab News.

The main official crossing point leads to the Herat province in western Afghanistan, which has become the area worst affected by COVID-19.

Javid said authorities, for their part, had increased preventive measures which include checking all returnees and isolating those affected by the virus.

“We have increased precautionary measures along the border with Iran to fight the spread of COVID-19, but the main challenge is the illegal crossings. We are assessing the situation closely and will make new decisions as things evolve in the coming days and weeks,” he told Arab News.

As an additional measure, authorities have extended the lockdown in Herat by three more weeks, with Monday being the third day since the curfew was enforced in Kabul, too.

The move, however, has failed to allay the fears of residents who said they were worried about their future.

“We are concerned about the spread of the virus. We know it is a global issue, which came from China to Iran and from there to here … These Afghans went to Iran for survival or economic needs. Now, they are fleeing Iran for Afghanistan to remain alive and do not know if they are contaminated,” Fateh Shah, a shopkeeper in Kabul, said, adding: “All we can do is to pray and take measures not to get affected.”


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.”