Philippines ends overseas travel ban on health care workers

Philippines ends overseas travel ban on health care workers
Newly graduated nurses gesture while having their picture taken by a friend before the oath taking ceremony of the professional nurses inside a mall in Manila. (REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 21 November 2020

Philippines ends overseas travel ban on health care workers

Philippines ends overseas travel ban on health care workers
  • Improving COVID-19 situation paves way for lifting of ban
  • Gov’t to allow 5,000 health care workers to leave annually

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved ending a ban on deploying the nation’s health care workers, his labor minister said on Saturday, clearing the way for thousands of nurses to take up jobs overseas.
“The president already approved the lifting of the temporary suspension of deployment of nurses and other medical workers,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello told Reuters.
Bello said the spread of the novel coronavirus was slowing down in the country and conditions were improving, so the government could afford to let its health care workers leave.
The Philippines has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, but daily case numbers and death rates have dropped.
To ensure the Philippines has enough medical professionals to continue to fight the pandemic at home, only 5,000 health care workers will be allowed to leave every year, Bello said.
“We are starting only with a cap of 5,000 so we will not run out (of medical workers), but this may increase eventually,” Bello said.
Last year, almost 17,000 nurses signed overseas work contracts data from the Commission on Higher Education and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration shows.
The government in April barred nurses, doctors and other medical workers from leaving, saying they were needed to fight the coronavirus crisis at home.
Thousands of health workers, who call themselves “priso-nurses,” had appealed to the government to let them take jobs abroad, Reuters reported in September. The nurses say they feel underpaid, under-appreciated and unprotected in the Philippines.
While the lifting of the travel ban was a “welcome development,” Maristela Abenojar, President of Filipino Nurses United, challenged the government to make true its commitment to give its nurses better pay and benefits if it wants them to stay.
Filipino health workers are on the front lines of the pandemic at hospitals in the United States, Europe and the Middle East as well as at home.
New coronavirus cases in the Philippines have remained below 2,000 since Nov. 10, while deaths, which totalled 8,025 as of Nov. 20 only equal 1.93% of the country’s 415,067 cases.
Hospital bed occupancy has also eased from critical levels, and the government has been gradually easing quarantine restrictions to jumpstart the coronavirus-hit economy.


At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting
Updated 11 May 2021

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting
  • RIA Novosti news agency reported that a teenager was detained
  • Local officials said some children were evacuated from the school but others still remained in the building

MOSCOW: A school shooting erupted Tuesday in the Russian city of Kazan, leaving eight students and one teacher dead, Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing local emergency services.
According to the Interfax news agency, two gunmen opened fire in the school, and one of them — a 17-year-old — has already been apprehended.

“According to preliminary information, the second attacker in the school in Kazan who remained in the building was killed,” the TASS state news agency reported, citing a law enforcement source.
Local officials said some children were evacuated from the school but others still remained in the building. Authorities said additional security measures have been put into place in all schools in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan region, roughly 700 kilometers (430 miles) east of Moscow.
While school shootings are relatively rare in Russia, there have been several violent attacks on schools in recent years, mostly carried out by students.


India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain

India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain
Updated 11 May 2021

India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain

India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain
  • The seven-day average of new cases is at a record high of 390,995

BENGALURU: India’s coronavirus crisis showed scant sign of easing on Tuesday, with a seven-day average of new cases at a record high and international heath authorities warning the country’s variant of the virus poses a global concern.
India’s daily coronavirus cases rose by 329,942, while deaths from the disease rose by 3,876, according to the health ministry. India’s total coronavirus infections are now at 22.99 million, while total fatalities rose to 249,992.
India leads the world in the daily average number of new deaths reported, accounting for one in every three deaths reported worldwide each day, according to a Reuters tally.
The seven-day average of new cases is at a record high of 390,995.
The World Health Organization said the coronavirus variant first identified in the country last year was being classified as a variant of global concern, with some preliminary studies showing that it spreads more easily.
“We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, told a briefing in Geneva on Monday. “There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility.” Nations around the globe have sent oxygen cylinders and other medical gear to support India’s crisis, but many hospitals around the nation are struggling with a shortage of the life-saving equipment.
Eleven people died late on Monday in a government hospital in Tirupati, a city in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, due to a delay in the arrival of a tanker carrying oxygen, a government official said.
“There were issues with oxygen pressure due to low availability. It all happened within a span of five minutes,” said M Harinarayan, the district’s top bureaucrat said late on Monday, adding the SVR Ruia hospital now had sufficient oxygen.
Sixteen faculty members and a number of retired teachers and employees who had been living on the campus of Aligarh Muslim University, one of India’s most prestigious, had died of coronavirus, the university said.
Adding to the strain on medical facilities, the Indian government has told doctors to look out for signs of mucormycosis or “black fungus” in COVID-19 patients as hospitals report a rise in cases of the rare but potentially fatal infection.
The disease, which can lead to blackening or discoloration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood, is strongly linked to diabetes. And diabetes can in turn be exacerbated by steroids such as dexamethasone, used to treat severe COVID-19.
Doctors in the country had to warn against the practice of using cow dung in the belief it will ward off COVID-19, saying there is no scientific evidence for its effectiveness and that it risks spreading other diseases.
In the state of Gujarat in western India, some believers have been going to cow shelters once a week to cover their bodies in cow dung and urine in the hope it will boost their immunity against, or help them recover from, the coronavirus.
“There is no concrete scientific evidence that cow dung or urine work to boost immunity against COVID-19, it is based entirely on belief,” said Dr. J.A. Jayalal, national president at the Indian Medical Association.
India’s second wave has increased calls for a nationwide lockdown and prompted a growing number of states to impose tougher restrictions, impacting businesses and the wider economy.
Production of the Apple iPhone 12 at a Foxconn factory in the southern state of Tamil Nadu has slumped by more than 50 percent because workers infected with COVID-19 have had to leave their posts, two sources told Reuters.
(Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee, Anuron Kumar Mitra, Kannaki Deka, Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Sudarshan Varadhan in Chennai; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)


Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai
Updated 11 May 2021

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

NEW DELHI: Experts said on Monday that a discovery of uranium was no cause for concern as it did not pose a security threat.
The comments came a day after India’s counterterrorism organization, the National Investigative Agency (NIA), took over the probe of a case involving the recovery of more than 7kg of natural uranium in Mumbai.
“I see a remote possibility of such uranium being misused to pose a threat to the nation,” Rajiv Nayan, a New Delhi-based expert on nonproliferation and arms control at the Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) think tank, told Arab News.
“Theoretically, the possibility of misuse is there, but only details will tell when the persons reveal why they were carrying the natural uranium,” Nayan added.
On May 5, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in the western Indian state of Maharashtra arrested two individuals for the possession of 7.1 kg of natural uranium worth $3 million in Mumbai.
The ATS lodged a case against Jigar Jayesh Pandya, 27, and Abu Tahir Afzal Choudhary, 31, before sending the samples to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai — India’s premier nuclear research facility — for testing.
On Thursday, the BARC confirmed that the substance was natural uranium.
According to officials, the duo was attempting to sell the uranium online when the ATS sent a fake customer and secured a substance sample. On Sunday, the NIA took control of the case and registered it under Section 24(1)(a) of the Atomic Energy Act (1962), which makes the possession of uranium without a license illegal and invites stringent punishment.
Both the ATS and the NIA were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Monday. However, according to media reports, Tahir’s father owns a scrapyard in the Mankhurd area of Mumbai and bought a truck full of factory waste two years ago. The uranium was reportedly among other forms of industrial waste found on the vehicle. This is not the first time authorities have recovered the radioactive material, with Ajay Sahni, a New Delhi-based security expert and director of the Institute for Conflict Management, saying that “such seizures of uranium have taken place.”
Sahni told Arab News: “In the late 1990s or early 2000s, a couple of scrap dealers had picked up quantities of uranium and arrested them. These are low-level people who have accidentally come across a certain amount of uranium and hope to make a little bit of money out of it.”
He added: “I don’t think it raises any basic question of critical security importance. It raises questions of how such material is handled and safeguarded in the country.”
However, he warned that “if it falls into the wrong hands it can be used for very dangerous ends.
“We don’t know the details. It could depend on the nature of individuals and possible connections with terrorists or whether this could have been acquired by terrorists.
“They are not interested in using it for any particular purpose, or they were trying to make money. It depends where something like this goes.”
Sahni termed the find as a “failure” of India’s security system to manage or guard the uranium flow.
“This is a failure of the security system, but it is not easy to say whether it represents a major security failure,” he added.


Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah

Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah
Updated 10 May 2021

Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah

Malaysia, Philippines capture 8 Abu Sayyaf militants in Sabah
  • Arrests a result of ‘intensified intelligence operations’ and close cooperation with Malaysia’s security forces

MANILA: The Philippine military on Monday said that close cooperation with Malaysia’s security forces led to the arrest of two notorious Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) sub-leaders involved in high-profile crimes.

The Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) identified the two arrested ASG sub-leaders as Sansibar Bensio and Mabar Binda, who led the kidnapping of several local and foreign nationals, including two European birdwatchers.

Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr., Wesmincom commander, said that the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) responded to information provided by the Philippine military’s Joint Task — Force Sulu (JTF-Sulu) about the presence of the ASG militants in the area, after which a special police operation was launched.

At 3 a.m. on May 8, Bensio and Binda were arrested in Jalan Taman Sri Arjuna, Beaufort, Sabah, while six of their followers were also nabbed in the operation.

JTF-Sulu commander, Maj. Gen. William Gonzales, said that the arrest of the suspects was a result of intensive intelligence build-up conducted by the 4th Marine Brigade under the command of Col. Hernanie Songano.

Gonzales said that Bensio was involved in the 2012 kidnapping of birdwatchers Lorenzo Vinciguerra, a Swiss national, and Ewold Horn, a Dutch national.

Vinciguerra was rescued after he managed to escape from his captors when government troops attacked the jungle camp where they were being held in 2014.

Horn, on the other hand, was kept hostage by the bandit group for seven years and was killed by one of his guards when he tried to escape during a clash between the group and soldiers in March 2019.

Meanwhile, Bensio and Binda were both part of the group that snatched three Indonesian fishermen in Lahad Datu, Sabah, on Sept. 23, 2019.

All three were rescued in separate operations conducted by the military a few months later.

Besides the foreign nationals, at least 10 Filipinos were kidnapped by the suspects.

Gonzales said that Bensio and Binda’s group were also involved in armed clashes with the military in Sulu, including the encounter in July 2011 at Sitio Tubig Magtuh, Barangay Panglayahan, Patikul town where a young Marine officer, 2Lt. Michael Baladad was beheaded.

Songano said: “These ASG personalities moved to Sabah around March this year.”

“We have been closely monitoring the activities of this Eastern Sulu kidnap-for-ransom group as it is highly possible that they intend to make Sabah their staging point for their kidnapping activities,” he said in a statement.

“They know that it will be very difficult for them to launch atrocities in Sulu due to the persistent military operations in the area,” he said.

Vinluas agreed, adding that intensified intelligence operations and the community’s support, along with the constant coordination between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the ESSCOM, contributed to the “successful neutralization” of the ASG sub-leaders and their cohorts.

“The arrest of suspects is a big blow to the ASG,” he said, commending JTF-Sulu and ESSCOM for the “aggressive measures taken to ensure that these terrorists will not be able to conduct horrendous activities anymore, particularly off the waters of Sabah.”

Gonzales warned the group against hampering peace in Sulu.

“Whether they seek refuge in nearby provinces or outside our area of operations, if they have caused atrocities or continue to spoil our peace initiatives here in Sulu — they will surely be made accountable and face the rule of law,” he said.


UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown

UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown
Updated 10 May 2021

UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown

UK police issue terror warning as crowds return post-lockdown
  • 29 attacks have been foiled in the past 4 years
  • Metropolitan Police: ‘People are becoming increasingly radicalized online’

LONDON: British police have issued a fresh terror warning as potential targets become more crowded after COVID-19 measures continue to ease.

Metropolitan Police — London’s police force — has reminded Britons that terrorist capabilities have not weakened over the course of the pandemic.

Twenty-nine attacks have been foiled in the past four years — 18 Islamist, 10 extreme right-wing, and one described as left-wing, anarchist or single-issue terrorism (LASIT).

“During the pandemic and the various lockdowns we’ve seen, the terrorist intent and capability has remained unchanged and people are becoming increasingly radicalized online,” said Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist.

“What has been missing to date is the opportunity for some of those terrorists to transact whatever they might wish to do, because there have been far fewer crowded places,” he added.

“Terrorists haven’t stopped planning attacks or radicalizing vulnerable people online, and now we’re easing out of lockdown.”

Britain has not endured a terror attack since the Reading stabbing on June 20, 2020, when Libyan asylum seeker Khairi Saadallah fatally knifed three victims meeting in a park. He was handed a whole-life prison term in January.

The UK’s current terror threat level stands at substantial. Twist said terror police officers are dealing with a threat that is mostly “focused on crowded spaces and creating mass casualties.”

He added: “We haven’t seen a significant shift away from that. In lockdown, there are far fewer venues with a lot of people.”

The number of anti-terrorist hotline reports has dropped significantly, with terror arrests falling to their lowest level in a decade over the past year.

Twist said Islamist terrorism remains Britain’s biggest threat, but warned that concerns over far-right extremism continue to grow.

Some 55 percent of the 185 terror arrests in 2020 were believed to be jihadists, with 23 percent far right and 22 percent filling the LASIT or unclassified groups.

Twist said top security officials are concerned that COVID-19 has created an environment where “extremists find it easier to identify, target and potentially radicalize vulnerable people.”

He added that the pandemic’s effect on economic inequality and the growth of conspiracy theories has given fuel to extremists, who prey on people in vulnerable positions.

In light of the added risk, police have asked hospitality venues and reopening businesses to carry out risk assessments on indoor areas and outdoor spaces.