Filipinos voice frustration over Duterte’s handling of COVID-19 crisis

Filipinos voice frustration over Duterte’s handling of COVID-19 crisis
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte talks to members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines. (File/AP)
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Updated 28 March 2021

Filipinos voice frustration over Duterte’s handling of COVID-19 crisis

Filipinos voice frustration over Duterte’s handling of COVID-19 crisis
  • Follows government’s move to place Metro Manila and four provinces under the strictest lockdown amid a massive spike in COVID-19 cases
  • Nearly 25 million Filipinos are affected by the strictest quarantine status

MANILA: Filipinos took to social media over the weekend to vent their anger over the government’s move to place the nation’s capital and four surrounding provinces under the strictest lockdown for a week starting from Monday amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Close to a quarter of the country’s more than 100 million population, or nearly 25 million Filipinos, are affected by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the strictest quarantine status, which Malacanang announced on the eve of President Rodrigo Duterte’s birthday.
During his press briefing on Saturday, presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, said that Duterte had approved the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases’ (IATF-EID) recommendation to place Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite, and Laguna under the ECQ until April 4.
“We want to take drastic measures because there’s a drastic threat. Drastic threats warrant a drastic response,” Roque said, adding that the use of major hospitals, particularly in Metro Manila, was at a critical level due to the daily increase in COVID-19 cases.
On Sunday, the Department of Health (DoH) reported 9,475 new coronavirus infections across the country, bringing the total tally to 721,892 with 11 new deaths recorded, taking the fatality count to 13,170.
However, the DoH also reported 22,000 new recoveries, taking the total number of recovered patients to 605,154 since the start of the pandemic.
Experts from the University of the Philippines’ (UP) Octa Research Group have also proposed a modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) for at least two weeks to break the transmission chains fueling the surge in cases and to prevent hospitals and health care workers from being overwhelmed.
In a radio interview on Saturday, Vice President Leni Robredo cited the example of a hospital where staff said they had started intubating patients in the parking lot due to a shortage of beds for COVID-19 cases.
“Right now, OCTA’s projection continues to be accurate. We are now witnessing longer queues for admissions, and the longer these patients wait for proper medical attention, the higher their risk of succumbing to this infection. We need to lower the health care utilization rate. We need a time out, and we need it now,” the Octa Research Group said in a statement.
“We are doing this to save lives and livelihoods. The longer we delay the implementation of stricter mobility restrictions, the more people will get sick and die from this surge,” it added.
Under the ECQ, movement is limited to essential activities, goods and services or work.
Public transport will continue, albeit with lower capacity, which the transportation department will determine and announce in the coming days, according to Roque.
The five areas will also be under a more extended curfew, starting from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.
However, authorized persons outside of their residences, workers, cargo vehicles and public transportation are not covered by the curfew.  
Malls will remain open only for essential services such as groceries, pharmacies and hardware stores, while restaurants will be limited to take-out and delivery only.
Following Malacanang’s announcement on the reimposition of ECQ, many Filipinos took to social media to air their grievances over what they said was the Duterte administration’s “failure” and “incompetence” to address the COVID-19 health crisis more than a year since the outbreak, with hashtags #Duterte Resign, #DutertePalpak (Duterte is a Failure) trending over the weekend.
“Going back to ECQ again, while the other countries are going back to normal already,” Twitter user Stanlee Sanchez said. Christ Orozco, another user, added: “The President will leave Metro Manila, the epicenter of pandemic, after imposing ECQ to celebrate his birthday in Davao? Obviously wala na siyang pakialam sa Pilipinas (Obviously he no longer cares about the Philippines). The best way is to resign #DutertePalpak #DuterteResign.”
Another Twitter user, Jomarie Sauquillo, said: “Going back to ECQ again means incompetence of his government. We’re just following an unbreakable cycle.” He added: “It’s our right as Filipino citizens to complain and demand!!! #DuterteResign #DutertePalpak”
In a separate tweet, Kamil_Anne said: “After a year and trillions of debt, this is still what the government can come up with. #DuterteResign #DutertePalpak”
Meanwhile, Facebook user E.B. Cortez said: “Mr. President, you cannot solve a public health emergency of this magnitude by simply showing yourself on TV every Monday . . . Your policies, if ever there is one, are incomprehensible and confusing as your slurred and incoherent speeches. Your incompetence is beyond description. Your callous indifference brings death and suffering to the people . . . It’s time for you to go. Let the people be.”  
Cortez also ended his post with hashtags #DutertePalpak and #DuterteResign.
Experts and lawmakers also questioned the government’s handling of the pandemic.
IBON Foundation Executive Director Sonny Africa said: “Stopping people from working and taking your time vaccinating isn’t a COVID-19 response strategy — it’s making people suffer from incompetence or, worse, for some sinister agenda.”
In a statement released on Saturday, opposition Congressman and House Deputy Minority Leader Isagani Zarate said that placing Metro Manila and its four neighboring provinces again under ECQ “is a tacit admission by the administration that it failed, that it bungled big time the COVID pandemic crisis.”
“It is proof, too, of its calamitous failure to listen to the health experts early on,” he said, adding that “ECQ without free mass testing, aggressive contact tracing, effective and timely isolation and treatment, as well as a speedy vaccination rollout, would be repeating the same militarist, inefficient and highly ineffective lockdowns.”
Health workers, however, welcomed the decision to revert to the ECQ but urged the government to “do more” in addressing the COVID-19 crisis.
In a press briefing on Saturday night, Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) member and president of the Philippine College of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Pauline Convocar ,said that the measure was necessary as hospitals were currently swamped with COVID-19 patients.
However, she said: “The lockdown . . . is only temporary to control people’s mobility and prevent the spread of the virus,” before emphasising that “sustainable solutions are needed at the same time.”
Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, also a member of the HPAAC, said that “hopefully when we get by the end of the week, there will have been significant improvements so we won’t have to extend.”
To “future-proof” the government’s COVID-19 response, the group suggested that it: expand the One Hospital Command Center to turn it into a One COVID-19 referral network; provide an integrated response from contact tracing, testing, isolation, and treatment; ensure a fair and efficient vaccine rollout, which would hold non-priority individuals who had been inoculated accountable; ensure enough public transportation supply; and financial aid for people affected by the lockdown.
Duterte is expected to return to Manila on Monday to welcome more Sinovac vaccines from China.
Roque said that he had asked the national taskforce against COVID-19 to issue an exemption for the event, which takes place on the first day of the ECQ and bans public gatherings.


Hong Kong shuts secondary schools over COVID-19 fears

Hong Kong shuts secondary schools over COVID-19 fears
Updated 8 sec ago

Hong Kong shuts secondary schools over COVID-19 fears

Hong Kong shuts secondary schools over COVID-19 fears
  • The government halted classes in primary schools and kindergartens early this month
HONG KONG: Hong Kong will suspend face-to-face teaching in secondary schools from January 24, the Education Bureau said on Thursday, because of a rising number of coronavirus infections in several schools in the Chinese-ruled territory.
The government halted classes in primary schools and kindergartens early this month, and imposed curbs, such as a ban on restaurant dining after 6 p.m. and the closure of venues such as gyms, cinemas and beauty salons.

North Korea suggests it may resume nuclear, missile tests

North Korea suggests it may resume nuclear, missile tests
Updated 20 January 2022

North Korea suggests it may resume nuclear, missile tests

North Korea suggests it may resume nuclear, missile tests
  • N. Korea has not tested nuclear bombs, ICBMs since 2017
  • Politburo says US threats ‘reached a danger line’

SEOUL: North Korea would bolster its defenses against the United States and consider restarting “all temporally-suspended activities,” state media KCNA reported Thursday, an apparent reference to a self-imposed moratorium on testing its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
Tension has been rising over a recent series of North Korean missile tests. A US push for fresh sanctions was followed by heated reaction from Pyongyang, raising the spectre of a return to the period of so-called “fire and fury” threats of 2017.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un convened a meeting of the powerful politburo of the ruling Workers’ Party on Wednesday to discuss “important policy issues,” including countermeasures over “hostile” US policy, the official KCNA news agency said.
The politburo ordered a reconsideration of trust-building measures and “promptly examining the issue of restarting all temporally-suspended activities,” while calling for “immediately bolstering more powerful physical means,” KCNA said.
The politburo decision appears to be a step beyond Kim’s previous remarks at the end of 2019 that he would no longer be bound by the moratorium on testing nuclear warheads and long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), after the United States did not respond to calls for concessions to reopen negotiations.
Washington’s policy and military threats had “reached a danger line,” the report said, citing joint US-South Korea military exercises, the deployment of cutting-edge US strategic weapons in the region, and the implementation of independent and UN sanctions.
“We should make more thorough preparation for a long-term confrontation with the US imperialists,” the politburo concluded.
The US State Department and White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Biden made no mention of North Korea during a nearly two-hour news conference on Wednesday held to mark his first year in office.
“We should brace for more sabre-rattling designed to create a warlike atmosphere — and possibly more provocation testing,” said Jean Lee, a fellow at the Washington-based Wilson Center, adding that Kim will use every opportunity to justify further weapons testing.

‘Vicious cycle’
North Korea could possibly test a long-range missile or other powerful weapon in time for the 80th and 110th anniversaries of the birthdays of Kim’s late father and grandfather in February and April, both major holidays in the country, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
“It’s possible that the situation could go back to the vicious cycle of provocations and sanctions we saw in 2017,” he said.
After test firing a ballistic missile capable of striking the US mainland in 2017, North Korea launched a flurry of diplomacy and has not tested its ICBMs or nuclear weapons since.
But it began testing a range of new short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) after denuclearization talks stalled and slipped back into a standoff following a failed summit in 2019.
Pyongyang has defended the missile launches as its sovereign right to self-defense and accused Washington of applying double standards over weapons tests.
On Monday, North Korea conducted its fourth missile test this year, following two launches of “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speed and manoeuvring after lift-off, and another one involving a railway-borne missile system.
The unusually rapid pace of launches prompted US condemnation and a push for new UN sanctions, and Pyongyang threatened stronger actions.
Jenny Town, director of the Washington-based Stimson Center’s 38 North program, said despite its strong language, the politburo report left room for Kim to “ratchet rhetoric up or down as he sees fit” depending on future developments.
The Biden administration needs to lead more concerted, high-level international efforts to restart negotiations on step-for-step actions toward peace and denuclearization, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington.
“The North Korean nuclear and missile problem has not disappeared and will only grow worse in the absence of active, serious diplomacy,” he said.  


US defense department releases first video of botched Kabul airstrike

US defense department releases first video of botched Kabul airstrike
Updated 20 January 2022

US defense department releases first video of botched Kabul airstrike

US defense department releases first video of botched Kabul airstrike
  • The drone strike killed 10 civilians in the final hours of a chaotic American withdrawal that ended a 20-year war in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon has declassified and publicly released video footage of a US drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 civilians in the final hours of a chaotic American withdrawal that ended a 20-year war in Afghanistan.
The New York Times obtained the footage through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against US Central Command, which then posted the imagery to its website. It marks the first public release of video footage of the Aug. 29 strike, which the Pentagon initially defended but later called a tragic mistake.

The videos include about 25 minutes of footage from what the Times reported were two MQ-9 Reaper drones, showing the scene of the strike prior to, during and after a missile struck a civilian car in a courtyard on a residential street. Indistinct images show individuals moving in or near the attack zone.
The military has said it struck what it thought was an extremist with the Daesh group’s Afghanistan affiliate who might imminently detonate a bomb near the Kabul airport, where a hurried evacuation was still under way.

Three days earlier a suicide bombing at the airport had killed 13 US troops and more than 160 Afghans. When it later acknowledged its error in the Aug. 29 drone strike, Central Command said it determined that the man driving the car had nothing to do with the Daesh group.
The man was Zemari Ahmadi, who worked for Nutrition and Education International, a US-based aid organization.

 


First aid flight leaves for isolated Tonga after big volcano eruption

First aid flight leaves for isolated Tonga after big volcano eruption
Updated 20 January 2022

First aid flight leaves for isolated Tonga after big volcano eruption

First aid flight leaves for isolated Tonga after big volcano eruption
  • The deliveries will be done with no contact because Tonga is desperate to make sure foreigners don’t bring in the coronavirus

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: The first flight carrying fresh water and other aid to Tonga was finally able to leave Thursday after the Pacific nation’s main airport runway was cleared of ash left a huge volcanic eruption.
A C-130 Hercules military transport plane left New Zealand carrying water containers, kits for temporary shelters, generators, hygiene supplies and communications equipment, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.
Australia was also preparing to send two C-17 Globemaster transport planes with humanitarian supplies. The flights were all due to arrive in Tonga on Thursday afternoon.
The deliveries will be done with no contact because Tonga is desperate to make sure foreigners don’t bring in the coronavirus. It has not had any outbreaks of COVID-19 and has reported just a single case since the pandemic began.
“The aircraft is expected to be on the ground for up to 90 minutes before returning to New Zealand,” Defense Minister Peeni Henare said.
UN humanitarian officials report that about 84,000 people — more than 80 percent of Tonga’s population — have been impacted by the volcano’s eruption, UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said, pointing to three deaths, injuries, loss of homes and polluted water.
Communications with Tonga remain limited after Saturday’s eruption and tsunami appeared to have broken the single fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga with the rest of the world. That means most people haven’t been able to use the Internet or make phone calls abroad, although some local phone networks are still working.
A navy patrol ship from New Zealand is also expected to arrive later Thursday. It is carrying hydrographic equipment and divers, and also has a helicopter to assist with delivering supplies.
Officials said the ship’s first task would be to check shipping channels and the structural integrity of the wharf in the capital, Nuku’alofa, following the eruption and tsunami.
Another New Zealand navy ship carrying 250,000 liters (66,000 gallons) of water is on its way. The ship can also produce tens of thousands of liters of fresh water each day using a desalination plant.
Three of Tonga’s smaller islands suffered serious damage from tsunami waves, officials and the Red Cross said.
The UN’s Dujarric said “all houses have apparently been destroyed on the island of Mango and only two houses remain on Fonoifua island, with extensive damage reported on Nomuka.” He said evacuations are under way for people from the islands.
According to Tongan census figures, Mango is home to 36 people, Fonoifua is home to 69 people, and Nomuka to 239. The majority of Tongans live on the main island of Tongatapu, where about 50 homes were destroyed.
Dujarric said the most pressing humanitarian needs are safe water, food and non-food items, and top priorities are reestablishing communication services including for international calls and the Internet.
Tonga has so far avoided the widespread devastation that many initially feared.


Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU

Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU
Updated 19 January 2022

Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU

Two Iraqi brothers accused of smuggling people from Mideast to EU
  • The men were arrested without incident near Venice before dawn

FOSSALTA DI PIAVE, Italy: Police in Italy and Albania have arrested more than 20 people accused of cashing in several hundred million euros to smuggle hundreds of refugees and migrants into the EU from Turkey on rented yachts and other leisure vessels, authorities said on Wednesday.

Two brothers who are Iraqi citizens are accused of masterminding a smuggling ring that mostly involved people fleeing Iraq and Syria. The men were arrested without incident near Venice before dawn.

The suspects, identified as Alaa Qasim Rahima, 38, and Omar Qasim Rahima, 30, are accused of running a ring that helped bring Syrians from Turkey to the EU using a network of associates in various countries.

They are believed to be part of a wider ring with as many as 80 members that allegedly organized at least 30 smuggling operations that transported at least 1,100 people by boat from Turkey to Europe.