Philippine hospitals fight surge in COVID-19 cases

Philippine hospitals fight surge in COVID-19 cases
A health worker wearing personal protective equipment walks inside a covered court used as a quarantine facility for COVID-19 patients in Manila. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 April 2021

Philippine hospitals fight surge in COVID-19 cases

Philippine hospitals fight surge in COVID-19 cases
  • Capital region and four surrounding provinces in lockdown

MANILA: The Philippines on Monday continued to record a spike in COVID-19 infections, with officials at a state-run hospital in Quezon City comparing the crisis to a “war zone” as health facilities across the country struggled to deal with an influx of patients.

The country registered 9,628 new infections on Monday, despite the government placing its capital Metro Manila region and four surrounding provinces under one of the strictest lockdown levels in March to tackle the surge.

“It’s like a war zone now,” healthcare worker John M. told Arab News on Monday, as he described scenes at his hospital of patients on a stretcher or a folding bed and lying in the hallway.

“This has never happened before. It’s because of an influx of COVID patients. Also, we do not refuse patients that are brought to the facility,” said John, who asked for his name to be changed as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Department of Health said that Monday’s infections brought the nationwide tally to 945,745. 

It reported 88 further coronavirus fatalities, raising the death toll to 16,048, with 788,322 recoveries and 141,375 active cases.

Since the March spike, several hospitals said they had been running at full capacity for COVID-19 patients, some of whom had to wait for several days to be admitted or drive from one hospital to another to seek treatment.

The state-run Philippine General Hospital (PGH), the largest COVID-19 referral facility in the country, had “a lot” of patients on the waiting list.

“They’re already full, and we have a lot of wait-listed patients,” Dr. Joel Santiaguel, a fellow at the PGH pulmonary department, told Arab News.

Santiaguel said that, compared to last year when a patient referred to the PGH could get easily admitted, patients now needed to wait for several days or be moved to the ER in case of an emergency. “But that too takes time.”

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Several hospitals said they had been running at full capacity for COVID-19 patients, some of whom had to wait for several days to be admitted or drive from one hospital to another to seek treatment.

He also cited how ambulances were working overtime to rush critical patients to hospitals, with a long queue of them parked outside PGH.

Santiaguel traced the crisis back to the second or third week of March, saying the PGH was never crowded with COVID-19 patients before then. He had also heard about some patients desperately searching for bed space to get admission into the ER.

“We used to see around 20 patients per day, but starting from March until now, we are attending to 70 patients per day. There are no beds available, so patients go to at least six to eight hospitals to find space in the ER or wait at the tent of the ER (for space to open up).”

Some patients died while waiting for their turn.

John said such stories were not limited to patients, with a nurse at his facility who tested positive for coronavirus also forced to wait on a “folding bed in the hallway of the hospital for a vacant room or bed.”

The hospital where he works has two five-story buildings for COVID-19 patients, with each floor able to accommodate 50 patients.

“All the rooms are currently occupied. Earlier, we would admit one person per room. Now we are forced to take two per room.”

According to the Department of Health, the utilization rate of COVID-19 beds remains high in the Metro Manila region, with beds in 700 of its intensive care units (ICU) reporting 84 percent occupancy, while 3,800 isolation beds were at a 63 percent occupancy rate, 2,200 ward beds at 70 percent, and ventilators at 61 percent.

Meanwhile, 66 percent of 1,900 ICU beds, 49 percent of 13,600 isolation beds, 56 percent of 6,000 ward beds, and 47 percent of 2,000 ventilators are currently in use nationwide.

In his televised address to the nation last week, President Rodrigo Duterte warned of more COVID-19 deaths due to the lack of vaccine supply.

“Until now, the word is unavailable. Unavailable because there’s no sufficient supply to inoculate the world. This will take long. I tell you, many more will die because of this. I just can’t say who.”

On Monday, however, Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque said the number of COVID-19 cases in a few Metro Manila cities had started to go down in recent days, partly due to the intensified implementation of the Prevent-Detect-Isolate-Treat-Reintegrate (PDITR) strategy.

He said that while there was only a slight decrease it was “still proof” that the PDTIR initiative was working. 

He added that the results of the lockdown in Manila and its surrounding provinces would be seen after three to four weeks.

In a press briefing at the weekend, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the department was stepping up its efforts to expand the health system.

“The most important thing for us now is, even though numbers will rise, to have enough healthcare capacity to accommodate patients, especially those who need hospital care or who need quarantine care. We are expanding (the number of) beds, talking with our local governments to intensify our response.” 

She also expressed hope that cases would decline in the coming days and that hospitals in Metro Manila would be decongested.


Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada
Updated 14 June 2021

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada

Terror charges laid against attack suspect in Canada
  • Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims
  • Nathaniel Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity

LONDON/ONTARIO: Prosecutors laid terrorism charges Monday against a man accused of driving down and killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario.
The prosecution said Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism and prosecutors have upgraded those charges under Canada’s criminal code.
Police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims.
Veltman also faces one count of attempted murder due to terrorism activity.
The upgraded charges were laid as Veltman made a brief court appearance via video Monday morning. He has yet to enter a plea.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk on June 6.
The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.


Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States
Updated 14 June 2021

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States

Philippines suspends decision to scrap troop pact with United States
  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin says suspension would be for a further six months

MANILA: The Philippines has suspended for the third time its decision to scrap a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, its foreign minister said on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months while President Rodrigo Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
The Philippines is a treaty ally of the United States, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA. Duterte last year notified Washington he was canceling the deal, which came amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a US visa.


Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry
Updated 14 June 2021

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry

Manchester Arena owner, security firm face multimillion-pound lawsuits after bombing inquiry
  • SMG Europe, Showsec both criticized in terror attack report, set to be published Thursday
  • Greater Manchester Police, British Transport Police also set for severe criticism in report

LONDON: The owners of Manchester Arena are set to be hit with a series of multimillion-pound lawsuits by victims of the bombing of an Ariana Grande concert at the venue in 2017, with an inquiry report on the attack set to be released this week.

Twenty-two people, mainly young women and girls, were killed when Salman Abedi detonated a bomb in the arena’s foyer, injuring hundreds of others.

His brother Hashem was later jailed for a minimum of 55 years for his role in organizing the attack.

SMG Europe, the owner of the arena, is set to be heavily criticized in the report, due to be published on Thursday, along with the British Transport Police, Greater Manchester Police and Showsec, the company that provided security for the concert.

Showsec is also likely to face lawsuits from survivors and families of the victims for substantial damages.

Sources told the Daily Telegraph that the companies and police forces had all received letters detailing criticisms of them from Sir John Saunders, the inquiry’s chairman, ahead of publication to allow them to respond.

Letters have also been sent to two men — Kyle Lawler and Mohammed Agha — both of whom worked for Showsec at the arena on the night and were alerted to Abedi’s presence by members of the public. 

Another source said: “The actions will be levelled against SMG primarily because ultimately they were the ones legally responsible for protecting the audience.”

The lawsuits against SMG and Showsec could run to tens of millions of pounds, with many survivors of the attack experiencing physical injury as well as long-term mental health issues.

Showsec, the inquiry heard, employed a large and predominantly casual labor force who were poorly trained and on minimum wage.

The company said blame for not stopping the attack predominantly lay with the police and SMG, with whom there had been a “breakdown in communication” over checking the area of the venue, a mezzanine level and CCTV blindspot in which Abedi hid for almost an hour. Both SMG Europe and Showsec declined to comment.

Thursday’s report, focusing on security arrangements at the venue, is the first of three set to be released following the inquiry.

The second will examine the emergency response to the attack, and the third will assess whether it was preventable.

The UK Home Office, meanwhile, is considering proposals for a new law — named after one of the victims, Martyn Hett — to require large hospitality and public venues to put in place protection and protocols to prevent terrorist attacks in future.


Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island
Updated 14 June 2021

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island

Nearly 1,300 migrants arrive on Italian island
  • Good weather encouraging more crossings to Europe, says mayor of Lampedusa
  • More than 500 have died trying to reach Italy, Malta this year, according to UN

ROME: Nearly 1,300 migrants landed during the weekend on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. Most of them were rescued by Italian fishermen from the dinghies they used to make the trip from North Africa.

“The good summer weather is encouraging migrants to attempt the perilous trip to Lampedusa and Europe. One boat is landing here nearly every hour, and the situation is getting worse,” Salvatore Martello, the mayor of Lampedusa, told Arab News.

He said that the identification center on the island is overcrowded, with sanitary measures at risk of being compromised as a result.

“The situation may turn explosive there, so the Coast Guard is moving some of the center’s guests to one of the quarantine ships moored in the waters of Lampedusa,” Martello added.

Between Sunday night and Monday morning, 42 migrants, including four minors and 11 women, landed in Lampedusa.

A spokesman for the Coast Guard in Palermo told Arab News that 60 more people, who were rescued offshore by Italian fishermen, are now on their way to the Island.

Once they arrive, they will have to be dispatched elsewhere, probably to Calabria, as the local center for migrants is full.

“We spotted the boat in the sea while we were fishing. It was a very old one, and it was not stable at all. We decided to stop our work and reach them. You cannot leave people at sea, especially on board those rickety crafts they use to make the trip. A strong wave would be enough to capsize them,” Giovanni Curatolo, captain of the Italian sailing ship Ettore III, told Arab news. 

Another 410 migrants were rescued from seven different boats during the weekend in the Channel of Sicily by the Geo Barents vessel, operated by Médecins Sans Frontières.

The Geo Barents is the only NGO ship still operating off the Libyan coast. In recent days, four more ships — Sea Watch 3, Sea Watch 4, Open Arms and Sea Eye — were subject by the Italian Coast Guard to administrative detention related to bureaucratic issues.

The massive presence of children, most of them unaccompanied, worries the NGOs.

“Their parents entrust them to other migrants in the hope that they will be able to escape persecution and misery. This is the most dramatic aspect of this infinite emergency that has now become ordinary,” Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, archbishop of Agrigento, told Arab News.

On Sunday, Pope Francis said that the Mediterranean had become the “biggest cemetery in Europe,” as he remembered the migrants who died trying to reach the continent.

More than 500 people have died crossing the sea to Italy and Malta between January and mid-May this year, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.


Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election
Updated 14 June 2021

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election

Muslim support for UK’s Labour dips ahead of crucial election
  • Poll: Support has fallen by a tenth under Keir Starmer’s leadership
  • His stance on Kashmir cited as one of the reasons for decline in popularity

LONDON: The UK’s main opposition Labour Party is losing support among British Muslims, a new poll has revealed, amid party fears that it will lose a crucial by-election in northern England next month.

The poll found that support from Muslims has fallen by a tenth under Keir Starmer’s leadership.

With the Batley & Spen by-election looming on the horizon, alarm bells are ringing for Labour strategists, with Starmer’s popularity dropping far behind that of his party among Muslim voters following his stances on Kashmir, Palestine, and a report on internal Islamophobia, The Times reported on Monday.

He was criticized heavily soon after taking the leadership in 2020 when he suggested that Jammu and Kashmir was a constitutional issue to be resolved by India and Pakistan. This was a reversal of Labour’s stance that the region had a right to self-determination.

Starmer is enduring a favorability rating of minus 7 percent among Muslim voters, compared to a 42 percent rating for the party.

His decline in popularity matches a fall in support from Muslims for Labour, which fell by 11 percent between 2019 and 2021. 

The findings of the poll, carried out among 504 voters by Survation for the Labour Muslim Network, will stoke fears among Labour activists that the party faces losing Batley & Spen, where the population is estimated to be 20 percent Muslim.

The party’s fears have been worsened by the presence on the Batley & Spen poll of former Labour MP George Galloway, who has been campaigning heavily in the constituency.