Philippines warns jail time for quarantine violators amid omicron wave

Philippines warns jail  time for quarantine violators amid omicron wave
The Philippines will now tighten COVID-19 restrictions in Manila over fears of an ‘exponential growth’ in cases due to the highly contagious omicron variant. (AFP)
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Updated 04 January 2022

Philippines warns jail time for quarantine violators amid omicron wave

Philippines warns jail  time for quarantine violators amid omicron wave
  • Officials to enforce applicable laws, including $1k fines
  • High-profile case saw US traveler infect 7 others post party

MANILA: Philippine officials warned incoming travelers against violating COVID-19 quarantine protocols on Monday, as the country gears up to face the highly transmissible omicron variant amid a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases.

The warning comes after a Filipino traveler returning from the US allegedly breached quarantine rules to attend a party in Makati City — part of the Metro Manila region and the country’s financial hub — in December, later testing positive for COVID-19 along with seven of her 15 close contacts. Authorities have since launched an investigation into the case.

In a televised interview, presidential spokesperson Karlos Nograles said that violators will be subject to fines of up to 50,000 Philippine pesos ($1,000) or up to six months’ imprisonment.

“If you’re thinking of violating protocols, please don’t even attempt that because we will run after you, including the hotels,” Nograles said.

“Because of what happened, we will ensure that whatever applicable laws that can be enforced, will be enforced. Whatever can be prosecuted and whoever — we will prosecute.

“And it’s not just civil cases to be filed, but also criminal charges will be filed against those responsible, whether it’s the violator or the establishment. We will do what is necessary to serve as an example to all,” he added.

The government has also tracked down another traveler from the US who allegedly skipped quarantine after arriving in the country.

Police will now “conduct random visits in different quarantine hotels across the country,” the Department of Interior and Local Government said on Monday, as part of efforts to ensure strict compliance with existing quarantine protocols.

The quarantine breaches occurred as the Philippines recorded a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual press conference that the country is again deemed “high risk.”

She said: “Nationally, we are now at high-risk case classification from low-risk case class in the previous week, showing a positive two-week growth rate at 222 percent and a moderate risk average daily attack rate at 1.07 cases for every 100,000 individuals.”

A daily rate less than one typically means a low COVID-19 threat level. The Philippines was last placed under high-risk case classification between August and October, when the archipelago experienced a major case spike driven by the highly contagious delta variant.

Health Undersecretary Leopold Vega said that the delta variant still makes up the majority of cases, though the omicron variant, which experts said is the most transmissible strain, is predicted to overtake it in the next few weeks.

The Philippines has so far detected three local cases and 11 imported cases of the omicron variant, while officials noted that healthcare utilization rate remains low. The country’s Department of Health reported 4,600 additional infections on Sunday, raising the number of active cases to more than 21,000.

“It looks like the omicron wave is upon us. We’ve seen this globally across South Africa and Europe and there has been a steady increase in our landscape here in the Philippines in terms of omicron,” Vega said in a televised interview.

He added: “Our numbers have doubled and this is the start. We are very sure that this will peak. When it will press down and decelerate, we don’t know. But what is very important is that we are prepared for omicron.”


Belgian court gives trafficker 15 years after migrant lorry deaths

Belgian court gives trafficker 15 years after migrant lorry deaths
Updated 26 sec ago

Belgian court gives trafficker 15 years after migrant lorry deaths

Belgian court gives trafficker 15 years after migrant lorry deaths
BRUGES: A Belgian court sentenced a Vietnamese man to 15 years on Wednesday after ruling he was a ringleader in the trafficking of 39 migrants found dead in a lorry.
Vo Van Hong, 45, was accused of leading a cross-Channel people trafficking operation based in Belgium linked to a truck that was found full of corpses on a British industrial estate in October 2019.

Nursing home fire kills 5 in eastern Spain

Nursing home fire kills 5 in eastern Spain
Updated 26 min 46 sec ago

Nursing home fire kills 5 in eastern Spain

Nursing home fire kills 5 in eastern Spain
  • Emergency services said that another 11 people required hospital treatment, with three in serious condition

MADRID: A fire at a nursing home in eastern Spain has killed at least five people, authorities said Wednesday.
Emergency services for the Valencia region said that another 11 people required hospital treatment, with three in serious condition.
Firefighters said that they rescued 25 residents out of a total of 70 that were evacuated from the nursing home in the municipality of Moncada just north of Valencia.
Valencia’s regional head, Ximo Puig, said that Spain’s Civil Guard police force were investigating the cause of the fire.
“The most important thing now is the recovery of those who have been injured,” Puig said.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez sent his condolences to the families.
Sánchez tweeted in Spanish that he was following “the tragic news from Moncada. My condolences to the families of the victims. We are watching with concern the evolution of the injured. All our support for the families and the town.”
Municipal authorities in Moncada have called for three days of mourning, with flags flying at half-staff on the town hall building.
Spain’s nursing homes, like in many other countries, were particularly hard-hit during the worst months of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Doctor goes on trial in Germany accused of torture in Syria

Doctor goes on trial in Germany accused of torture in Syria
Updated 19 January 2022

Doctor goes on trial in Germany accused of torture in Syria

Doctor goes on trial in Germany accused of torture in Syria
  • In one case, he is accused of beating an anti-government demonstrator after prison officials called the doctor to the hospital to treat a man experiencing an epileptic attack following torture

BERLIN: A court in Germany will begin hearing a case Wednesday against a Syrian doctor accused of crimes against humanity for torturing and killing inmates at a government-run prison in his home country.
Federal prosecutors say the doctor, identified as Alaa M. in keeping with German privacy rules, worked at a military intelligence prison in the Syrian city of Homs from April 2011 until late 2012.
They accuse the doctor of killing one person, torture in 18 cases, causing serious physical and psychological harm to another person, and other crimes including one that led to another death.
The defendant entered Germany in 2015, and German authorities permitted him to practice medicine after recertifying his Syrian medical credentials. He worked at a clinic near Kassel in central Germany, where multiple Syrians recognized the doctor from his time in Syria and reported him to German police.
In one case, he is accused of beating an anti-government demonstrator after prison officials called the doctor to the hospital to treat a man experiencing an epileptic attack following torture. That man later died.
In another case, German authorities accused the doctor of intentionally killing a prisoner via injection to demonstrate “his power and at the same time to suppress the uprising of a part of the Syrian population,” the Frankfurt regional court said.
The defendant has denied the allegations.
This latest case follows last week’s landmark conviction of a former senior member of the Syrian secret police for crimes against humanity, including the torture of at least 30 anti-government demonstrators at a detention center in Douma, Syria.
Alaa M. has been in pretrial detention since his arrest in June 2020.


UK PM Johnson faces ‘pork pie’ plot to trigger leadership challenge

UK PM Johnson faces ‘pork pie’ plot to trigger leadership challenge
Updated 17 min 40 sec ago

UK PM Johnson faces ‘pork pie’ plot to trigger leadership challenge

UK PM Johnson faces ‘pork pie’ plot to trigger leadership challenge
  • An analysis by The Times newspaper showed that 58 Conservative lawmakers had criticized the prime minister

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was fighting to shore up his premiership on Wednesday amid a revolt by his own lawmakers who are angry over a series of lockdown parties in Downing Street.
Propelled into the top job to “get Brexit done,” Johnson in 2019 won his party’s biggest majority in more than 30 years but now faces calls to resign after a series of revelations about parties in Downing Street — the prime ministers’ home and office — during COVID lockdowns.
Johnson has repeatedly apologized for the parties and said that he was unaware of many of them. However, he attended what he said he thought was a work event on May 20, 2020 which revellers had been told to “bring their own booze.”
To trigger a leadership challenge, 54 of the 360 Conservative MPs in parliament must write letters of no confidence to the chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee.
As many as 20 Conservative lawmakers who won their seats at the last national election in 2019 plan to submit letters of no confidence in Johnson, the Telegraph reported. A handful of others have already said they had written such letters.
“Group of 2019 MPs to submit letters to try to hit threshold of 54 to trigger a contest,” BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg said on Twitter. “They might hit 54.”
An analysis by The Times newspaper showed that 58 Conservative lawmakers had openly criticized the prime minister.
Toppling Johnson would leave the United Kingdom in limbo for months just as the West deals with the Ukraine crisis and the world’s fifth largest economy grapples with the inflationary wave triggered by the COVID pandemic, with UK inflation rising to the highest level in nearly 30 years.
Leading rivals within the Conservative Party include Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, 41, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, 46.
Johnson on Tuesday denied an accusation by his former adviser that he had lied to parliament about a lockdown party, saying nobody had warned him the “bring your own booze” gathering might contravene COVID-19 rules.
He sidestepped questions about whether he would resign if proven he misled parliament, saying only that he wanted to wait for the outcome of an internal inquiry.
Johnson will address parliament on Wednesday after his Cabinet is expected to approve plans to end the recent restrictions imposed to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in England.
Opposition leaders have accused Johnson of being a serial liar and called on him to step down.
Downing Street lockdown parties — some held when ordinary people could not bid farewell in person to dying relatives — have undermined Johnson’s authority.
His own former spokeswoman resigned after she was captured laughing and joking on camera about how to cast a party if asked about it by reporters.
Such was the revelry in Downing Street at one event that staff went to a nearby supermarket to buy a suitcase of alcohol, spilled wine on carpets, and broke a swing used by the prime minister’s young son.
The Mirror said staff had even bought a wine fridge for Friday gatherings, events that were regularly observed by Johnson as he walked to his apartment in the building.
Johnson has given a variety of explanations of the parties, ranging from denials that any rules were broken to expressing understanding for the public anger at apparent hypocrisy at the heart of the British state.
Opponents have called for Johnson to resign, casting him as a charlatan who demanded the British people follow some of the most onerous rules in peacetime history while his staff partied.
The latest plot was cast as the “pork pie plot” because one alleged rebel lawmaker was from Melton, the home of the Melton Mowbray pork pie. Pork pie is also London slang for a lie.
The rise of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, often referred to as simply “Boris,” to prime minister was the grandest move in a career that took him from journalism via TV show fame, comedy and scandal into the cauldron of the Brexit crisis — and then to the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.
If lockdown parties sink that career, it would mark yet another extraordinary twist to nearly 12 years of tumultuous Conservative Party rule which has included Brexit, a referendum on Scottish independence and a quiver of elections.
A flamboyant figure known for his ambition, untidy blond hair, flowery oratory and cursory command of policy detail, Johnson’s rise to power was all about Brexit.
But after securing Britain’s exit from the European Union, Johnson was hit by the COVID pandemic which has killed 152,513 people in the United Kingdom. After surviving COVID in 2020, he said it nearly killed him.


WHO says pandemic ‘nowhere near over’ as France, Germany post record cases

WHO says pandemic ‘nowhere near over’ as France, Germany post record cases
Updated 19 January 2022

WHO says pandemic ‘nowhere near over’ as France, Germany post record cases

WHO says pandemic ‘nowhere near over’ as France, Germany post record cases
  • The UN health chief warned against dismissing omicron as mild

GENEVA: The World Health Organization has warned that the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, as France, Germany and Brazil posted new records of infections in the past 24 hours.
The highly transmissible omicron strain has spread unabated around the world, pushing some governments to impose fresh measures while speeding up the rollout of vaccine booster shots.
“This pandemic is nowhere near over,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Tuesday from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva.
Europe is at the epicenter of alarming new outbreaks, with Germany’s cases soaring past 100,000 and France reporting nearly half a million cases on Tuesday.
The UN health chief warned against dismissing omicron as mild, as the dominant Covid strain continues to flare new outbreaks from Latin America to East Asia after it was first detected in southern Africa in November.
“omicron may be less severe, on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading,” he said.
Five millions cases were reported in Europe last week and the WHO has predicted omicron could infect half of all Europeans by March, filling hospitals across the continent.
Germany on Tuesday recorded 112,323 coronavirus cases and 239 deaths, officials said, with omicron found in more than 70 percent of the infections.
The surge has pushed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to seek compulsory vaccinations to ramp up the immunity of the population in Europe’s biggest economy.
Other European countries are also battling soaring omicron rates, with neighboring France recently averaging around 300,000 cases daily.
The latest data issued by Public Health France showed that there were 464,769 new cases in the last 24-hour period, a record number.
The record cases come days after the two-year anniversary of the announcement of the first person dying of a virus in China only later identified as Covid.
Since January 11, 2020, known fatalities in the pandemic have soared to more than 5.5 million.
Hopes for Europe’s tourism recovery remain bleak with the World Tourism Organization saying Tuesday that foreign arrivals will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024 at the earliest, despite a rise of 19 percent last year compared to 2020.
Elsewhere in the world, Brazil registered a new record number of daily cases of more than 137,000 on Tuesday.
The country suffered a devastating second wave last year with deaths topping 4,000 a day, pushing its death toll to the second highest in the world behind the United States.
President Jair Bolsonaro, an avowed vaccine skeptic who has downplayed omicron, is increasingly under fire for his handling of the pandemic, and he is on course to lose the country’s October presidential election, according to polls.
In Asia, Japan was set to tighten restrictions across the country, including Tokyo, as it battles record infections fueled by omicron while China partially relaxed transport restrictions in the megacity of Xi’an where millions have been confined to their homes for weeks.
Japanese experts on Wednesday backed placing 13 regions “under quasi-emergency measures from January 21 to February 13” Daishiro Yamagiwa, minister in charge of coronavirus affairs, told reporters.
China’s resumption of some inter-city train routes in Xi’an from Tuesday comes just before the Lunar New Year holiday later this month, traditionally a period of mass travel.
It also comes as Beijing battles multiple clusters that are testing its enforcement of a strict “zero-Covid” approach ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics.
Focus is increasingly turning to animals and how the virus interacts with them, after at least two countries reported Covid-19 cases in creatures big and small potentially passed between them and humans.
A study published Tuesday in South Africa said big cats caged in zoos are at risk from catching Covid from their keepers.
Researchers found clues pointing to the infection of three lions and two pumas by their handlers at a zoo in Johannesburg, some of whom were asymptomatic.
In Hong Kong, hamsters were bearing the brunt of the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s similarly strict approach to Covid, with officials appearing to blame them for two human cases.
The financial hub’s government faced growing outrage Wednesday over its decision to cull 2,000 small animals in pet shops after several hamsters in a store allegedly tested positive for Covid-19.
“Internationally, there is no evidence yet to show pets can transmit the coronavirus to humans,” Health Secretary Sophia Chan told a press conference.
“But... we will take precautionary measures against any vector of transmission.”