Philippines fears 42,000 returning workers could ‘overwhelm’ virus quarantine centers

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Filipinos who availed general amnesty granted by the Kuwaiti government wait for their flight home at the Kuwait International Airport on April 3, 2020. (AFP)
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A maid from the Philippines walks in central Beirut, Lebanon. (AP)
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Updated 22 May 2020

Philippines fears 42,000 returning workers could ‘overwhelm’ virus quarantine centers

  • Estimated 713 Filipino workers in Middle East, Africa test positive for COVID-19 as government plans to step up targeted COVID-19 testing

MANILA: Authorities in the Philippines fear the imminent return of 42,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) could “overwhelm” the country’s coronavirus disease (COVID-19) quarantine facilities.

Almost 29,000 Filipinos have already been repatriated in the wake of the virus pandemic and tens of thousands more are expected to head home over the coming weeks.

Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National Task Force COVID-19, briefed Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte on the situation in a meeting at the presidential palace, which was broadcast on Tuesday.

“Right now, more than 27,000 (OFWs) are here in Manila. And another 42,000 are arriving by May and June. This could overwhelm our hotels,” Galvez said.

All returning OFWs are required to spend 14 days in quarantine on arrival in the country. They can choose to stay either at government-owned facilities, on passenger ships, or in hotels accredited by the Bureau of Quarantine in Metro Manila, the national capital region.

In a bid to prevent quarantine centers being swamped, Defense Secretary Deflin Lorenzana has coordinated with the maritime industry and other agencies to allow the quick release and return to home provinces of OFWs testing negative for COVID-19, to free-up room for those set to return.

Galvez reported that out of 22,432 repatriated OFWs tested with the help of the Philippine Red Cross, 465 were found to have been infected with the virus. “Had they not been tested, these 465 could have become the second wave of infections,” he said.

In a televised interview on Wednesday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said some 13,000 repatriated OFWs who had tested negative for COVID-19 would soon be reunited with their families.

“That’s a major development because that’s almost half of the total number of OFWs waiting,” he said.

On Thursday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) welcomed 278 OFWs from Qatar who arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) on a Philippine Airlines flight, the first to be organized in coordination with the Philippine Embassy in Doha.

Upon arrival at NAIA, the workers underwent thermal scanning and RT-PCR testing before being transported to designated hotels for quarantine.

The DFA Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs has been active in the repatriation efforts since the COVID-19 outbreak. “We are working around the clock because the distressed Filipinos depend on our services,” said Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Sarah Lou Arriola.

To date the DFA has repatriated 28,589 Filipinos because of the global health crisis.

On Thursday, based on the latest DFA report, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among Filipinos abroad was 2,461. At least 285 had died as a result of contracting the virus.

Among the virus-positive OFWs abroad, 752 were in Europe, 713 in the Middle East and Africa, 544 in the Americas, and 452 in the Asia-Pacific region.

Meanwhile, as community quarantine restrictions were gradually being eased throughout the country, the government announced its determination to further scale up its capacity to conduct targeted COVID-19 testing.

The move would be crucial in preventing a second wave of COVID-19 infections from happening, Galvez said during a hearing called by the Senate Committee of the Whole.

“Testing and tracing would serve as our primary offensive tactics in order to isolate and treat the spreaders. These are potent weapons to unmask our unseen enemy. We also have to prepare our people to be disciplined in adapting to the new normal,” he added.

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

Updated 44 min 59 sec ago

India faces worst locust crisis in decades

  • Indo-Pak border a breeding ground for bug; worst attack in over 20 years, says expert

NEW DELHI: Suresh Kumar was sipping tea on the balcony of his Jaipur house on Friday when the sun suddenly disappeared. Thinking it was probably a black cloud that was filtering out the daylight, he looked up and saw swarms of locusts covering the sky of the capital city of the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Within a few minutes, short-horned grasshoppers were everywhere —walls, balconies and nearby trees — as they forced people to take refuge in their houses.

“It was unprecedented,” Kumar, who lives in Jaipur’s walled city area, told Arab News on Thursday. “Never before have I witnessed such a scene. Suddenly millions of aliens invaded our locality. Some residents of the neighborhood tried to bang some steel plates to shoo them off, but the jarring sound did not make much of an impact. However, the swarms left the area within an hour or so.”

More than a thousand kilometers away, in the Balaghat district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmer Dev Singh had a similar experience, although the bugs not only occupied his farmhouse, they destroyed the budding leaves of different kinds of pulses which he had sown in his field.

“Only a few weeks ago I harvested the wheat crop,” he told Arab News. “In a way, I’m lucky that the locusts have come now … otherwise the damage would have been much greater,” but he added that “with the pulse plant damaged in good measure, the yield will not be great this year.”

His area has been cleared of the locusts after the intervention of local authorities, which sprayed chemicals to kill the bugs and blared out sirens to shoo them off.

India is already grappling with an alarming surge of coronavirus cases and struggling to cope with the devastation caused by a recent cyclone. The country is also dealing with rising unemployment figures after more than 100 million people went jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is facing security issues, too, in the form of a seething border dispute with China. The locust invasion has added to beleaguered India’s laundry list of woes.

Scientists said it was a serious crisis.

“This is the worst locust attack in more than two decades,” Dr. K. L. Gurjar, of the Faridabad-based Locust Warning Organization, told Arab News. “Compared to the past, these locusts are younger and have traveled a longer distance. This should be a cause of concern. The states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will be badly impacted. We are controlling and containing the situation on a daily basis.”

According to media reports, around 50,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed by desert locusts in the two states during the last four weeks.

“The problem will persist until the invasion of swarms continues from across the border in Pakistan and Iran. The Indo-Pak border has become the breeding ground for the bug,” Gurjar added.

But he remained hopeful that the country would get rid of the menace through its measures, despite the present danger.

“There is a danger of locusts remaining alive for a longer period, though we are hopeful to ultimately sort them out.”

The Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University (JNAU) of Jabalpur has also been monitoring the situation in Madhya Pradesh, noting that locusts damage the crop completely wherever they go.

“Desert locusts stay immobile throughout the night and their movement begins again in the morning and they fly along the direction of the wind,” JNAU’s Dr. Om Gupta told Arab News. “Wherever they find shelter, they damage the crops in totality. In some areas, locusts have created havoc.”

She added that spray was generally used in the evening or early morning to kill the bugs. “They breed very fast and we focus on killing their eggs. What we are dealing with is nothing short of a catastrophe, and we are not going to get respite from this anytime soon.”