Philippines says workplace transmission main reason behind COVID-19 surge

Health workers check residents at a free COVID-19 swab testing at a gymnasium in Navotas city, Metro Manila on Thursday amid another lockdown in the area. (AP)
Updated 07 August 2020

Philippines says workplace transmission main reason behind COVID-19 surge

  • Govt has reintroduced quarantine measures in Metro Manila and nearby provinces

MANILA: Workplace common areas have been the main source of a surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in the Philippines, the country’s virus response chief, Carlito Galvez Jr., said on Thursday.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 3,561 new COVID-19 cases nationwide, bringing the total to 119,460 as of Thursday evening. The recent surge in virus cases and appeals from health professionals have prompted the government to reintroduce Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ) in Metro Manila — the national capital region — and surrounding provinces from Aug. 4 to Aug. 18.
“We saw that the most critical areas right now are the workplace, economic hubs, and industries because of the workers’ lack of training on public safety and minimum health standards,” Galvez said in a media briefing, adding that 80 percent of the government’s efforts will now be focused on prevention by changing the mindset and behavior of the people.
He said that “grave violations” have been observed by officials in terms of “minimum health standards” at canteens and in smoking areas.
Other alarming developments, especially in Metro Manila, he added, are the emergence of COVID-19 hotspots in densely populated areas, especially among poor communities where social distancing is difficult, as well as family-wide infections.
“Based on the data we have seen in hospitals, transmission is now not only by individuals, but by families,” Galvez said, noting that contagion happens during family gatherings.
During the same press briefing, the country’s testing czar, Vince Dizon, dismissed a news report naming the Philippines as the potential COVID-19 epicenter in Southeast Asia.
“That’s speculative,” Dizon said, explaining that the Philippines has increased its testing capacity and now conducts the highest number of daily COVID-19 tests in the whole region.
“The data shows that since we ramped up testing, we are finding more positive cases. The public has to understand that that is normal,” he said, adding that the number of COVID-19 recoveries in the country is higher than that of active cases.
According to DoH data, the number of active COVID-19 cases is 50,473, compared with 66,837 recoveries. The death toll is now 2,150 with 28 COVID-19-related fatalities reported on Thursday.
The 15-day MECQ period in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite and Laguna is expected to help prevent a further surge in COVID-19 transmission and lower the number of positive cases in these areas.
To achieve this, Dizon said, the government will increase the number of isolation facilities for COVID-19 patients and intensify tracing.
“In that way, we will be able to slow down the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases,” Dizon said.
 


Taj Mahal reopens even as India coronavirus cases soar

Updated 14 min 39 sec ago

Taj Mahal reopens even as India coronavirus cases soar

  • India, home to 1.3 billion people and some of the world’s most crowded cities, has recorded more than 5.4 million Covid-19 cases
  • Taj Mahal usually draws seven million visitors a year, but has been closed since March

AGRA: India’s famed Taj Mahal and some schools reopened on Monday as authorities pressed ahead with kickstarting the nation’s coronavirus-battered economy despite soaring infection numbers.
India, home to 1.3 billion people and some of the world’s most crowded cities, has recorded more than 5.4 million Covid-19 cases, second only to the United States which it could overtake soon.
But after a strict lockdown in March that devastated the livelihoods of tens of millions of people, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reluctant to copy some other nations and tighten the screw on activity again.
Instead in recent months his government has eased more and more restrictions including on many train routes, domestic flights, markets, restaurants — and now, visiting the Taj Mahal.
“So many people lost their job during the lockdown. People have suffered a lot and it is time the country opens up fully,” said bank official Ayub Sheikh, 35, visiting the Taj with his wife and baby daughter.
“We are not afraid of the virus. If it has to infect us, it will,” Sheikh told AFP. “Not many people are dying now. I don’t think it is going to go away soon. We have to get used to it now.”
The jaw-dropping white-marble mausoleum in Agra south of New Delhi is India’s most popular tourist site. It usually draws seven million visitors a year, but has been closed since March.
Officials said strict social distancing rules were in place and visitors were not allowed to touch the marble. The famous bench where visitors sit for a photo — most memorably Princess Diana in 1992 — has been specially laminated so that it can be regularly sanitised without damage.
Early on Monday a couple of hundred of visitors were inside. Security personnel were reminding everyone to wear masks once photos have been clicked. Daily visitor numbers have been capped at 5,000 — a quarter the normal rate.
“Coronavirus is there in every country,” Spanish visitor Ainhoa Parra told AFP. “We are taking all the safety measures that we can. We have to be careful but if we have to get infected we will.”
“So many livelihoods depend on the Taj. It’s great to be back in business,” said local official Satish Joshi.


Elsewhere in India, particularly in rural areas where infections are soaring, anecdotal evidence suggests that government guidelines on avoiding the virus are more often ignored than adhered to.
“I think, not just in India but all over the world, fatigue with extreme measures that were taken to restrict the growth of the coronavirus is setting in,” said Gautam Menon, professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University, predicting that infections will keep rising as a result.
Many experts say that even though India is testing more than a million people per day, this is still not enough and the true number of cases may be much higher than officially reported.
The same goes for deaths, which currently stand at more than 86,000, with many fatalities not properly recorded even in normal times in one of the world’s worst-funded health care systems.
There is however some resistance to Modi’s unlocking of the world’s second-most populated country, which saw its economy contract by almost a quarter between April and June.
Schools were allowed to resume Monday on a voluntary basis for students aged 14 to 17, but most Indian states have said it is still too soon.
In those states where they can open, schools themselves refused to open and parents are wary of sending their children in.
In one rural school in the northeastern state of Assam for instance, out of 400 students only eight showed up on Monday morning.
“I am prepared for my son to lose an academic year by not going to school rather than risk sending him,” said Nupur Bhattacharya, the mother of a nine-year-old boy in the southern city of Bangalore.