Philippines records region’s biggest daily rise in coronavirus deaths

A resurgence in coronavirus infections was to be expected with the loosening of restrictions, a former Philippine health secretary said. (AFP)
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Updated 13 July 2020

Philippines records region’s biggest daily rise in coronavirus deaths

  • COVID-19 infections have since June 1 when the government started easing tight restrictions

MANILA: The Philippines reported on Monday its biggest daily jump in coronavirus deaths and warned of a risk of further fatalities and infections after the easing of lockdown restrictions and as authorities scramble to verify thousands of suspected cases.
A health ministry official reported 162 new deaths, which is also the biggest single-day jump recorded in Southeast Asia to date, while 2,124 new infections were announced.
The number of COVID-19 infections has more than tripled to 56,259 since June 1 when the government started easing tight restrictions, including allowing public transport, restaurants and malls to open at limited capacities to restart the economy.
The health ministry said it expected the number of fatalities to rise beyond the total 1,534, with nearly 12,000 suspected positive cases yet to be verified.
“As part of ongoing data harmonization, we cannot avoid seeing cases not yet included in our official death count,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a news conference, which had been delayed for a day.
President Rodrigo Duterte eased one of the toughest and longest lockdowns in the world in the capital Manila in June to breathe some life back into the economy, but partial curbs remain.
He also reinstated strict lockdown measures in Cebu City from June 16, which is emerging as a new hot spot with a tenth of the country’s total infections.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, in a regular briefing, described the pandemic as an “intensifying challenge” and said Manila’s hospital occupancy jumped to 70 percent on July 11 from 48 percent five days prior due to a spike in cases.
A resurgence in infections was to be expected with the loosening of restrictions, former health secretary Esperanza Cabral said, but “the degree of increase” will depend on people’s compliance with COVID-19 preventive measures.
While the number of coronavirus tests in the Philippines has reached 908,779, that is less than 1 percent of the 107 million population.


US begins highest level Taiwan visit in decades

Updated 09 August 2020

US begins highest level Taiwan visit in decades

  • During the three-day visit Health Secretary Alex Azar will meet President Tsai Ing-wen
  • Under President Donald Trump, US relations with Taiwan have warmed dramatically

TAIPEI: A senior member of US President Donald Trump’s administration landed in Taiwan Sunday for Washington’s highest level visit since switching diplomatic recognition to China in 1979, a trip Beijing has condemned.
During the three-day visit Health Secretary Alex Azar will meet President Tsai Ing-wen, who advocates Taiwan being recognized as a sovereign nation and is loathed by China’s leaders.
Azar is the most senior US cabinet member to visit Taiwan in decades and his visit comes as relations between the world’s two biggest economic powers plunge to historic lows.
In recent days, Trump has ordered sweeping restrictions on popular Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat and the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Hong Kong’s leader over a tough law that curbs dissent.
Washington has billed the Taiwan trip as an opportunity to learn from the island’s fight against the coronavirus and to celebrate its progressive values.
“This trip is a recognition of Taiwan’s success in combating COVID-19 and a testament to the shared beliefs that open and democratic societies are best equipped to combating disease threats like COVID-19,” a health and human services department official told reporters ahead of the visit.
But Beijing balks at any recognition of self-ruled Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory and vows to one day seize, by force if necessary.
It has described Azar’s visit as a threat to “peace and stability,” while China’s defense minister warned against Washington making any “dangerous moves.”
As well as meeting Tsai, Azar will hold talks with his counterpart Chen Shih-chung and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.
He will also meet coronavirus experts and give a speech to public health students as well as alumni of a training program with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Taiwan has become a poster child for defeating the coronavirus thanks to a well-honed track and tracing program as well as firm border controls.
Despite its proximity and economic links to China it has recorded fewer than 500 infections and seven deaths.
In contrast the US has recorded the most deaths in the world with more than 160,000 fatalities.
As public disapproval has grown for his handling of the epidemic, Trump has pivoted from his previous focus on striking a trade deal with China to blaming the country for the coronavirus crisis.
The two countries have clashed on a range of issues, from trade to espionage allegations and Beijing’s human rights record such as the mass incarceration of Uighur Muslims and the political crackdown in Hong Kong.
Washington remains the leading arms supplier to Taiwan but has historically been cautious in holding official contacts with it.
Under Trump, relations with Taiwan have warmed dramatically and he has approved a number of major military sales, including F-16 fighter jets.
The last cabinet minister to visit Taiwan was in 2014 when the then head of the Environmental Protection Agency led a delegation.