Philippines activates border checkpoints in Metro Manila ahead of lockdown

Philippines activates border checkpoints in Metro Manila ahead of lockdown
A health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer jab in Manila. (AFP/File)
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Updated 01 August 2021

Philippines activates border checkpoints in Metro Manila ahead of lockdown

Philippines activates border checkpoints in Metro Manila ahead of lockdown
  • Fortnight of curbs ‘critical’ to limit spread of delta variant, official says

MANILA: The Philippines government on Sunday began enforcing quarantine control points (QCP) along the borders of the National Capital Region (NCR) to curb the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus, ahead of a strict lockdown later this week.

“At the moment, the QCPs are at the borders of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite with adjoining provinces, but once we move to ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) starting Aug. 6, checkpoints will now be located inside Metro Manila,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said in a statement.

The two-week ECQ will be imposed in Metropolitan Manila, the nation’s capital region with more than 13 million people, from Aug. 6 to 20.

On Sunday, the Department of Health reported 8,735 new COVID-19 infections, taking the total tally to 1,597,689 cases.

Of the total, 94.3 percent have recovered, while the number of active cases stood at 4 percent, or 63,646, a majority with mild or no symptoms.

There were 127 new deaths reported, taking the country’s death toll to 28,016 since the start of the pandemic.

As of Thursday, 216 delta variant cases had been detected in the Philippines.

Ano said that the QCPs, manned by the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fire Protection, will be located along the borders of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite, and will “ensure that only authorized persons outside of residence are allowed to pass."

These include health and emergency frontline service workers and uniformed personnel, government officials and employees on official travel, those involved in fully authorized relief and humanitarian assistance efforts, those traveling for medical or humanitarian reasons, persons going to and from airports, anyone crossing zones for work in permitted industries and public utility vehicle operators.

Those found to be unauthorized people outside of residence will not be allowed to pass and will be asked to return to their homes, Ano said, adding that from Aug. 1 to 5, “no QCPs will be put up inside the NCR Plus (Metro Manila plus Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite).

“The PNP, nonetheless, may still set up regular checkpoints inside the NCR Plus bubble to implement curfew hours, enforce minimum health standards and for general law enforcement,” he said.

In an earlier radio interview, Ano said that during the interim period between Friday’s announcement of Metro Manila’s return to a hard lockdown, the government “has to implement additional heightened restrictions, to include inter-zonal movement.

“With the announcement of the ECQ, it is expected that some people would be rushing to leave Metro Manila. With that, there is a high risk that people who may already be infected with the delta variant could spread the virus to other areas,” he added.

He stressed that the implementation of strict border controls was “critical” to stop the spread of the delta variant.

“Among the objectives of the ECQ is to shut down the mobility of people to cut the chain of transmission of the delta variant and to incubate the virus, so that it will die naturally,” Ano said.

He added that another purpose is to allow the government to ramp up vaccination measures against COVID-19, and allow for a more aggressive and intensive contact tracing to identify and isolate infected individuals.

“It is important for the government to act now because once there is a surge in delta variant cases in the country, it will be explosive and exponential, and it will not be easy to reverse,” he said.

The official cited other countries in the region that also had resorted to imposing hard lockdowns.

“For example, in Indonesia, they have 21,000 infections per day, and 1,700 are dying every day. In India, the rate was 44,000 cases per day, and when they ramped up their vaccination program, the recorded deaths went down to at least 500 to 600 per day. But Malaysia and Thailand, they are at about 16,000 infections per day, and until now their cases continued to surge,” Ano said.

“In the UK and the US, they still have a high rate of infection with 27,000 new cases a day, but the number of people dying has gone down because they have already vaccinated a large number of their population. It shows that vaccination slows down the transmission of the delta variant and also helps prevent death among patients,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ano reminded the PNP to allow the “unimpeded movement of cargo and delivery vehicles across all quarantine control points, because of the importance to the economy.”

PNP chief Guillermo Eleazar assured the public that human rights “would be respected at border control points in the area.”

At the same time, he said that the PNP’s Medical Reserve Force (MRF) was placed on standby to assist in the vaccination process during the enforcement of the ECQ in the capital region.

“The MRF is ready to help as additional manpower in the vaccination process after the Metro Manila Council’s pronouncement that it is targeting 250,000 individuals for incoluation each day during the two-week ECQ,” Eleazar said in a statement.

He also tasked concerned police commanders to coordinate with local government officials, especially village executives, to discuss the vaccination process during the ECQ.


Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran
Updated 28 October 2021

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran

Japan provides $6.3m in medical aid to Iran
  • The aid comes after Human Rights Watch claimed Iranian mismanagement has harmed the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

TOKYO: Japan provided Iran with grant aid of ¥695 million (about $6.3 million) to strengthen health and medical capabilities to fight coronavirus in the country, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said.

The aid comes after Human Rights Watch claimed Iranian mismanagement has harmed the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The HRW also called on Tehran to honestly and clearly communicate with the public about the situation. 

Iran’s official government statistics showed that the country experienced its fifth wave in August, with with at least 655 daily COVID-19 deaths.

Hirotaka Matsuo, Japan’s Charge d’Affaires and interim in Tehran exchanged the letter of agreement on this aid with the World Health Organization representative Dr. Husain Syed Jaffar.

The aid, in cooperation with the International Health Organization, will help in providing six MRIs to hospitals in five Iranian locations and obtaining equipment needed to diagnose COVID-19 complications.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


Japan condemns Israeli settlement plans

Japan condemns Israeli settlement plans
Updated 28 October 2021

Japan condemns Israeli settlement plans

Japan condemns Israeli settlement plans
  • Japan underscored the necessity of confidence-building between Israel and Palestine and the efforts toward easing tensions and stabilizing the region

TOKYO: Japan on Thursday condemned Israel’s plans to build about 1,300 settlement housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“Israel’s settlement activities violate international law and undermine the viability of a ‘two-state solution.’ The Government of Japan deeply deplores the continued settlement activities by the government of Israel despite repeated calls for freezing such activities from Japan and the international community,” said an official statement by the foreign ministry in Tokyo.

In the statement, Japan underscored the necessity of confidence-building between Israel and Palestine and the efforts toward easing tensions and stabilizing the region. “Japan strongly urges the government of Israel to rescind the tenders mentioned above and approval of the construction plans, and to freeze its settlement activities.”

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


India tests ballistic missile with 5,000-km range

India tests ballistic missile with 5,000-km range
Updated 52 min 7 sec ago

India tests ballistic missile with 5,000-km range

India tests ballistic missile with 5,000-km range
  • The Agni-5 missile blasted off from Abdul Kalam Island off India’s east coast late Wednesday and splashed into the Bay of Bengal

NEW DELHI: India has tested a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead up to 5,000 kilometers, the defense ministry said, in what media called a “stern signal” to China as the two remain locked in a border spat.
The Agni-5 missile blasted off from Abdul Kalam Island off India’s east coast late Wednesday and splashed into the Bay of Bengal.
“The successful test ... is in line with India’s stated policy to have ‘credible minimum deterrence’ that underpins the commitment to ‘No First Use’ [of nuclear weapons],” a defense ministry statement said.
The 17-meter-tall missile has been tested several times before, but not at night, and local media said that the timing was aimed at sending a signal to Beijing.
Tensions with China have been running high since 20 Indian soldiers died in clashes on their disputed Himalayas border in June 2020.
The nuclear-armed neighbors have since reinforced the frontier with tens of thousands of extra troops.
India has deepened defense cooperation with Western countries in recent years, including in the Quad alliance with the United States, Japan and Australia.
New Delhi is also a major buyer of Russian military hardware, and ordered Moscow’s S-400 missile defense system despite the threat of US sanctions over the $5.4 billion deal.
The Financial Times reported this month that China had tested a hypersonic missile that circled the Earth at low orbit before descending toward, but missing, its target.
Beijing denied the report, insisting it was a routine test of a reusable space vehicle.
Hypersonics are the new frontier in missile technology, because they fly lower and are harder to detect than ballistic missiles, can reach targets more quickly, and are maneuverable.
The United States, Russia, China and North Korea have all tested hypersonic missiles and several others are developing the technology — including reportedly India.
According to the Times of India, New Delhi is working on enabling the Agni-5 to carry several nuclear warheads at once so they can split up and hit different targets.


Taiwan must prepare to defend itself – defense minister

Taiwan must prepare to defend itself – defense minister
Updated 28 October 2021

Taiwan must prepare to defend itself – defense minister

Taiwan must prepare to defend itself – defense minister
  • Tensions between Taiwan and China have risen to their highest level in decades
  • China claims Taiwan as part of its national territory although the island has been self-ruled

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s defense minister said Thursday that Taiwan must be prepared to defend itself and could not entirely depend on other countries to help if China were to launch an attack against the island, even as Taiwan’s president said she had faith the US would defend it.
“The country must rely on itself, and if any friends or other groups can help us, then it’s like I said before, we’re happy to have it, but we can not completely depend on it,” the minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, told reporters after being questioned in the legislature as part of a session on national defense.
Tensions between Taiwan and China have risen to their highest level in decades, with China sending record-breaking numbers of fighter jets toward international airspace close to the island, stepping up a campaign of military harassment. Taiwan’s defense ministry has said that China would have “comprehensive” capabilities to invade the island by 2025.
China claims Taiwan as part of its national territory although the island has been self-ruled since it split from the communist-ruled mainland in 1949 after a long civil war.
Chiu has called the rising tensions between China and Taiwan the most “severe” he has seen in 40 years.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said in an interview with CNN that aired Thursday that she had faith the US would defend Taiwan if China made a move against the island.
“I do have faith given the long term relationship we have with the US and also the support of the people of the US as well as Congress,” Tsai said.


Singapore probes unusual surge in COVID-19 cases after record

Singapore probes unusual surge in COVID-19 cases after record
Updated 28 October 2021

Singapore probes unusual surge in COVID-19 cases after record

Singapore probes unusual surge in COVID-19 cases after record
  • Last week, Singapore extended some social curbs for about a month, to rein in the spread of COVID-19

SINGAPORE: Singapore is looking into an “unusual surge” of 5,324 new infections of COVID-19, the city-state’s health ministry said, its highest such figure since the beginning of the pandemic, as beds in intensive care units fill up.
Ten new deaths on Wednesday carried the toll to 349, after 3,277 infections the previous day, while the ICU utilization rate is nearing 80 percent, despite a population that is 84 percent fully vaccinated, with 14 percent receiving booster doses.
“The infection numbers are unusually high today, mostly due to many COVID-positive cases detected by the testing laboratories within a few hours in the afternoon,” the health ministry said in a statement.
“The Ministry of Health is looking into this unusual surge in cases within a relatively short window, and closely monitoring the trends for the next few days,” it added in Wednesday’s statement.
While nearly 98.7 percent of the past month’s 90,203 cases had no symptoms, or only mild ones, about 0.2 percent of those had died, and 0.1 percent each were being monitored closely in intensive care units (ICU) or were critically ill and intubated there.
About 72 ICU beds were vacant by Wednesday, at an overall ICU use rate of 79.8 percent, with 142 coronavirus sufferers accounting for about half of occupied beds.
The ministry said it was adding more ICU beds. The Asian city-state, which has set aside 200 ICU beds to be used by COVID-19 patients, can add 100 more at short notice.
Last week, it extended some social curbs for about a month, to rein in the spread of COVID-19 and ease pressure on health care facilities.
Authorities reinstated curbs limiting social interactions and dining out to two people, so as to slow infections.