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.”


UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election

UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election
Updated 20 sec ago

UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election

UK PM Johnson vows to lead Conservatives to next election
KIGALI: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed on Saturday to lead his Conservative party into the next national election, which could be more than two years away, despite two bruising by-election defeats that have led to renewed calls for him to quit.
Earlier this month, Johnson survived a vote of confidence by Conservative lawmakers, though 41 percent of his parliamentary colleagues voted to oust him, and he is under investigation by a committee over whether he intentionally misled parliament.
On Friday, Conservative candidates lost two elections to the House of Commons held to replace former Conservative incumbents who had to step down, one after being convicted of sexual assault and the other for watching pornography in parliament.
The election defeats suggest the broad voter appeal which helped Johnson win the 2019 election may be fracturing after a scandal over illegal parties held at Downing Street during coronavirus lockdowns.
Fears that Johnson could have become an electoral liability may prompt lawmakers to move against him, at a time when millions of Britons are struggling with rising food and fuel prices.
However, Johnson said he did not expect to face another internal challenge from within his party.
When asked on the final day of a trip to Rwanda for a Commonwealth summit if he would fight another confidence vote, Johnson told reporters: “What? We just had one of those things and I’m very happy to have got a bigger mandate from my parliamentary party than I got in 2019.”
Asked if he felt the question of his leadership was settled, the prime minister said: “Yes.”
Under existing party rules, Johnson’s leadership cannot be formally challenged again for another year.
Asked if he would lead the Conservatives into the next election, which is due no later than December 2024, Johnson said: “Will I win? Yes.”
Johnson blamed the by-election defeats partly on months of media reporting of lockdown parties at the heart of government.
“I think that actually people were fed up of hearing about things I had stuffed up, or allegedly stuffed up, or whatever, this endless, completely legitimate, but endless churn of news,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, Johnson told BBC radio he rejected the notion that he should change his behavior.
“If you’re saying you want me to undergo some sort of psychological transformation, I think that our listeners would know that that ... is not going to happen.”

PARTY TROUBLE
Johnson’s explanation for the defeat may do little to ease frustration in the Conservative Party.
A wave of resignations by senior ministers might force Johnson out before the next national election. The party’s chairman, Oliver Dowden, quit after the by-election defeats.
Former Conservative leaders Michael Howard and William Hague are the latest senior party figures to call for Johnson to go.
Asked what his message was for Conservative lawmakers who fear they could lose their seats at the next election, Johnson said: “We have to focus on the things that matter to voters, get it right on the cost of living, the economy.”
Johnson refused to comment on a report in The Times newspaper that he had planned to get a donor to fund a 150,000-pound ($184,000) treehouse for his son at his state-provided country residence.
The story comes months after his party was fined for failing to accurately report a donation which helped fund the refurbishment of his Downing Street apartment.
“I’m not going to comment on non-existent objects,” Johnson said when asked if he planned to use a donor’s money to build the treehouse. ($1 = 0.8155 pounds)

Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID

Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID
Updated 25 June 2022

Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID

Beijing to reopen schools, Shanghai declares victory over COVID
  • The two major cities were among several places in China that implemented strict COVID-19 measures

SHANGHAI/BEIJING: Beijing on Saturday said it would allow primary and secondary schools to resume in-person classes and Shanghai’s top party boss declared victory over COVID-19 after the city reported zero new local cases for the first time in two months.
The two major cities were among several places in China that implemented curbs to stop the spread of the omicron wave during March to May, with Shanghai imposing a two month-long city-wide lockdown that lifted on June 1.
The efforts, part of China’s adherence to a zero-COVID policy that aims to eradicate all outbreaks, have brought case numbers down but many of the heavy-handed measures have fueled anger and even rare protests and taken a heavy toll on the economy.
Beijing shut its schools in early May and asked students to move to online learning amid a spike in locally transmitted COVID cases. Senior year students at middle and high schools were allowed to return to classrooms from June 2.
On Saturday, with case numbers trending lower in recent days, the capital’s education commission said all primary and secondary school students in the capital can return to in-person classes from Monday. Kindergartens will be allowed to reopen from July 4.
The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Sports said separately that sports activities for the young can resume at non-school locations on June 27 in areas where no community cases have been reported for seven consecutive days, with the exception of basement venues, which will remain shut.
The Universal Beijing Resort, which had been closed for nearly two months, reopened on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Shanghai reported no new local cases — both symptomatic and asymptomatic — for June 24, the first time the Chinese economic hub had done so since Feb. 23.
Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang said at the opening at the city’s party congress on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID by implementing the instructions of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and that Beijing’s epidemic prevention decisions were “completely correct.” The city, however, remains on edge. Most students have not been allowed to resume in-person classes and dining indoors is still banned. It also plans to continue conducting mass PCR testing for its 25 million residents every weekend until the end of July.


Oslo shooting suspect is Norwegian of Iranian descent: police

Oslo shooting suspect is Norwegian of Iranian descent: police
Updated 25 June 2022

Oslo shooting suspect is Norwegian of Iranian descent: police

Oslo shooting suspect is Norwegian of Iranian descent: police
  • Attack is being treated as a possible ‘terrorist act’
  • Motive behind attack remains unclear

OSLO: An overnight shooting in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, that killed two people and wounded more than a dozen is being investigated as a possible terrorist attack, Norwegian police said Saturday.
In a news conference Saturday, police officials said the man arrested after the shooting was a Norwegian citizen of Iranian origin who was previously known to police but not for major crimes.
They said they had seized two firearms in connection with the attack: a handgun and an automatic weapon.
The events occurred outside a nightclub and in nearby streets in central Oslo.
Police spokesman Tore Barstad said 14 people were receiving medical treatment, eight of whom have been hospitalized.
Olav Roenneberg, a journalist from Norwegian public broadcaster NRK, said he witnessed the shooting.
“I saw a man arrive at the site with a bag. He picked up a weapon and started shooting,” Roenneberg told NRK. “First I thought it was an air gun. Then the glass of the bar next door was shattered and I understood I had to run for cover.”
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a Facebook post that “the shooting outside London Pub in Oslo tonight was a cruel and deeply shocking attack on innocent people.”
He said that while the motive was unclear, the shooting had caused fear and grief in the community.
Christian Bredeli, who was at the bar, told Norwegian newspaper VG that he hid on the fourth floor with a group of about 10 people until he was told it was safe to come out.
“Many were fearing for their lives,” he said. “On our way out we saw several injured people, so we understood that something serious had happened.”
Norwegian broadcaster TV2 showed footage of people running down Oslo streets in panic as shots rang out in the background.
Norway is a relatively safe country but has experienced violent attacks by right-wing extremists, including one of the worst mass shootings in Europe in 2011, when a gunman killed 69 people on the island of Utoya after setting off a bomb in Oslo that left eight dead.
In 2019, another right-wing extremist killed his stepsister and then opened fire in a mosque but was overpowered before anyone there was injured.


What is causing record floods and heatwaves in China?

What is causing record floods and heatwaves in China?
Rescuers evacuate stranded residents in flood water in Tuojiang Township in central China's Hunan Province on June 22, 2022. (Xi
Updated 25 June 2022

What is causing record floods and heatwaves in China?

What is causing record floods and heatwaves in China?
  • More than half a million people were evacuated this month because of the flood threat
  • The floods in China last year cost $25 billion — the world’s second-worst flood-related loss after Europe

BEIJING: Record floods in southern China this month displaced more than half a million people, while searing heat buckled roads in other parts of the country.
Authorities have issued extreme weather warnings in multiple regions, while experts warned that these phenomena were more evidence of the impact of climate change.

Summer floods are common in China, especially in the low-lying Pearl River delta region in the south.
This year, however, the National Climate Center forecast that flooding will be “relatively worse” and “more extreme” than before.
Water levels at one location in Guangdong province “surpassed historical records” this week, according to the ministry of water resources, while parts of neighboring Fujian province and Guangxi region also reported record rainfall.
More than half a million people were evacuated this month because of the flood threat.
In the cities of Guangzhou and Shaoguan in Guangdong province, heavy rainfall turned roads into rivers and people had to be taken to safety in lifeboats.
Authorities in the province estimated the economic damage from the floods to be more than a quarter of a billion dollars.

Seven provinces in northern and central China Wednesday warned millions of residents not to go outdoors as temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
State broadcaster CCTV this week showed footage of cement roads cracked under extreme heat in central Henan province.
Meanwhile, power demand surged to record levels in several cities in the north this week as residents cranked up the air conditioning to beat the heat.
In China’s second-most populous province Shandong, home to more than 100 million people, electricity use topped 93 million kilowatts on Tuesday, beating the 2020 high of 90 million kilowatts, CCTV said.

China’s central economic planner estimates that extreme weather will shave off one to three percent of the country’s GDP every year.
The floods in China last year cost $25 billion — the world’s second-worst flood-related loss after Europe, a study published in April by reinsurer Swiss Re showed.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang warned Wednesday that floods and heatwaves will affect the production of staple grains, vegetables and pork and push up inflation.

“Extreme weather and climate events in the country have become more frequent, severe and widespread,” China Meteorological Administration said Wednesday.
It followed a warning in March from Xiao Chan, deputy director of the National Climate Center: “Global warming and La Nina events are contributing to abnormally high temperatures and extreme rain in China.”
As the Earth’s atmosphere gets warmer, it holds more moisture, making downpours more intense.
La Nina refers to the large-scale cooling of surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, causing devastating floods in South China, India and Bangladesh.

China has built a network of massive dams and “sponge cities” with permeable pavements to try and limit the devastation during the annual flood season.
“But the most damaging recent floods have occurred in areas historically less at risk,” said Scott Moore, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania focusing on China’s environmental policy.
“This is a classic climate change effect: increased extreme weather in different regions and at different times of year than the historical average.”
China is the world’s biggest coal-burning nation and top emitter of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change.
It aims to become carbon neutral by 2060, but local governments have pushed up investments in both renewables and coal in recent months.
Beijing has also not yet outlined precisely how it intends to achieve its emissions targets.
Environmentalists have warned that without specifying the size of the peak or setting an absolute cap, China can essentially keep increasing emissions until 2030.

A new roadmap for climate change adaptation published by the Chinese government last week says the focus should now shift to predicting extreme weather more accurately using sensors and satellites.
“The usefulness of weather forecasts caps out around 10 days, beyond which their accuracy rapidly drops to that of a coin flip,” think tank Trivium China said in a research note.
“Climate monitoring and forecasting is a whole different ballgame,” helping to predict severe floods and droughts at least a month in advance.
 


Sweltering streets: Hundreds of homeless die in extreme heat

Sweltering streets: Hundreds of homeless die in extreme heat
Updated 25 June 2022

Sweltering streets: Hundreds of homeless die in extreme heat

Sweltering streets: Hundreds of homeless die in extreme heat
  • Temperatures are rising nearly everywhere because of global warming, combining with brutal drought in some places to create more intense, frequent and longer heat waves
  • In the US, excessive heat causes more weather-related deaths than hurricanes, flooding and tornadoes combined

PHOENIX: Hundreds of blue, green and grey tents are pitched under the sun’s searing rays in downtown Phoenix, a jumble of flimsy canvas and plastic along dusty sidewalks. Here, in the hottest big city in America, thousands of homeless people swelter as the summer’s triple digit temperatures arrive.
The stifling tent city has ballooned amid pandemic-era evictions and surging rents that have dumped hundreds more people onto the sizzling streets that grow eerily quiet when temperatures peak in the midafternoon. A heat wave earlier this month brought temperatures of up to 114 degrees (45.5 Celsius) — and it’s only June. Highs reached 118 degrees (47.7 Celsius) last year.
“During the summer, it’s pretty hard to find a place at night that’s cool enough to sleep without the police running you off,” said Chris Medlock, a homeless Phoenix man known on the streets as “T-Bone” who carries everything he owns in a small backpack and often beds down in a park or a nearby desert preserve to avoid the crowds.
“If a kind soul could just offer a place on their couch indoors maybe more people would live,” Medlock said at a dining room where homeless people can get some shade and a free meal.
Excessive heat causes more weather-related deaths in the United States than hurricanes, flooding and tornadoes combined.

Around the country, heat contributes to some 1,500 deaths annually, and advocates estimate about half of those people are homeless.
Temperatures are rising nearly everywhere because of global warming, combining with brutal drought in some places to create more intense, frequent and longer heat waves. The past few summers have been some of the hottest on record.
Just in the county that includes Phoenix, at least 130 homeless people were among the 339 individuals who died from heat-associated causes in 2021.
“If 130 homeless people were dying in any other way it would be considered a mass casualty event,” said Kristie L. Ebi, a professor of global health at the University of Washington.
It’s a problem that stretches across the United States, and now, with rising global temperatures, heat is no longer a danger just in places like Phoenix.
This summer will likely bring above-normal temperatures over most land areas worldwide, according to the latest seasonal forecast map produced by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University.
Last summer, a heat wave blasted the normally temperate US Northwest and had Seattle residents sleeping in their yards and on roofs, or fleeing to hotels with air conditioning. Across the state, several people presumed to be homeless died outdoors, including a man slumped behind a gas station.
In Oregon, officials opened 24-hour cooling centers for the first time. Volunteer teams fanned out with water and popsicles to homeless encampments on Portland’s outskirts.
A quick scientific analysis concluded last year’s Pacific Northwest heat wave was virtually impossible without human-caused climate change adding several degrees and toppling previous records.

A man takes a photo of a sign at El Arroyo restaurant in Austin, Texas, on a hot afternoon, on  June 23, 2022. (Austin American-Statesman via AP)/ 

Even Boston is exploring ways to protect diverse neighborhoods like its Chinatown, where population density and few shade trees help drive temperatures up to 106 degrees (41 Celsius) some summer days. The city plans strategies like increasing tree canopy and other kinds of shade, using cooler materials for roofs, and expanding its network of cooling centers during heat waves.
It’s not just a US problem. An Associated Press analysis last year of a dataset published by the Columbia University’s climate school found exposure to extreme heat has tripled and now affects about a quarter of the world’s population.
This spring, an extreme heat wave gripped much of Pakistan and India, where homelessness is widespread due to discrimination and insufficient housing. The high in Jacobabad, Pakistan near the border with India hit 122 degrees (50 Celsius) in May.
Dr. Dileep Mavalankar, who heads the Indian Institute of Public Health in the western Indian city Gandhinagar, said because of poor reporting it’s unknown how many die in the country from heat exposure.
Summertime cooling centers for homeless, elderly and other vulnerable populations have opened in several European countries each summer since a heat wave killed 70,000 people across Europe in 2003.
Emergency service workers on bicycles patrol Madrid’s streets, distributing ice packs and water in the hot months. Still, some 1,300 people, most of them elderly, continue to die in Spain each summer because of health complications exacerbated by excess heat.
Spain and southern France last week sweltered through unusually hot weather for mid-June, with temperatures hitting 104 degrees (40 Celsius) in some areas.
Climate scientist David Hondula, who heads Phoenix’s new office for heat mitigation, says that with such extreme weather now seen around the world, more solutions are needed to protect the vulnerable, especially homeless people who are about 200 times more likely than sheltered individuals to die from heat-associated causes.
“As temperatures continue to rise across the US and the world, cities like Seattle, Minneapolis, New York or Kansas City that don’t have the experience or infrastructure for dealing with heat have to adjust as well.”
In Phoenix, officials and advocates hope a vacant building recently converted into a 200-bed shelter for homeless people will help save lives this summer.
Mac Mais, 34, was among the first to move in.
“It can be rough. I stay in the shelters or anywhere I can find,” said Mais who has been homeless on and off since he was a teen. “Here, I can stay out actually rest, work on job applications, stay out of the heat.”
In Las Vegas, teams deliver bottled water to homeless people living in encampments around the county and inside a network of underground storm drains under the Las Vegas strip.

People crowd the registration counter at Tej Bahadur Sapru Hospital in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh state, India, on June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Ahmedabad, India, population 8.4 million, was the first South Asian city to design a heat action plan in 2013.
Through its warning system, nongovernmental groups reach out to vulnerable people and send text messages to mobile phones. Water tankers are dispatched to slums, while bus stops, temples and libraries become shelters for people to escape the blistering rays.
Still, the deaths pile up.
Kimberly Rae Haws, a 62-year-old homeless woman, was severely burned in October 2020 while sprawled for an unknown amount of time on a sizzling Phoenix blacktop. The cause of her subsequent death was never investigated.
A young man nicknamed Twitch died from heat exposure as he sat on a curb near a Phoenix soup kitchen in the hours before it opened one weekend in 2018.
“He was supposed to move into permanent housing the next Monday,” said Jim Baker, who oversees that dining room for the St. Vincent de Paul charity. “His mother was devastated.”
Many such deaths are never confirmed as heat related and aren’t always noticed because of the stigma of homelessness and lack of connection to family.
When a 62-year-old mentally ill woman named Shawna Wright died last summer in a hot alley in Salt Lake City, her death only became known when her family published an obituary saying the system failed to protect her during the hottest July on record, when temperatures reached the triple digits.
Her sister, Tricia Wright, said making it easier for homeless people to get permanent housing would go a long way toward protecting them from extreme summertime temperatures.
“We always thought she was tough, that she could get through it,” Tricia Wright said of her sister. “But no one is tough enough for that kind of heat.”