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Philippines keeps 1-meter social distancing rule as virus cases soar

Residents wearing face mask queue up for an oropharyngeal swab during a mass testing for the COVID-19 at a park in Quezon City, suburban Manila on April 15, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)

SYDNEY / ADEN / RAMALLAH – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has decided to retain the 1 metre (three feet) social distance requirement on public transport to reduce coronavirus infecions, rejecting moves to reduce it to 30 centimetres, his spokesman said on Saturday.

Health experts have warned that reducing gaps between passengers in trains, buses and jeepneys could result in a surge of infections in the Philippines, which has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.

Duterte studied recommendations and decided to retain the 1 metre distancing requirement, including a ban on eating and speaking in public transport, presidential spokesman Harry Roque told state-run PTV4 network. Passengers still need to wear face shield and mask at all times, he added.

The transport ministry, which cut the distance to 75cm on Monday, 50cm on Sept. 28 and 30cm on Oct 12 to accommodate more passengers returning to work as the economy gradually reopens, said it will comply with the president’s decision.

“We shall aggressively comply and strictly enforce the 1-metre physical distancing in all public transport as envisioned and mandated,” the transport ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

The World Health Organization recommends at least 1 metre of distancing to avoid the spread of the virus.

Manila’s transport systems are notoriously crowded, with commutes typically involving long queues and several changes.

Experts and medical professionals have described as dangerous and premature a reduction in distancing requirement, warning it could prolong a first wave of infections that the Philippines has been battling since March.

 Philippines’ health ministry on Saturday reported 3,962 new coronavirus infections and 100 additional deaths, with both numbers the highest in five days.

In a bulletin, the ministry said total confirmed cases have risen to 283,460, the highest in Southeast Asia, while deaths have reached 4,930.

India

India’s parliament session that began this week is likely to be cut short after 30 lawmakers were found infected with the coronavirus, two senior parliament officials said, as the number of cases in the country rose to 5.3 million.

The Indian parliament met for the first time in six months on September 14 and was to function until Oct. 1, but the two officials said its duration could be reduced by a week.

“Since the commencement of the session the number of positive cases have gone up so the government is thinking of cutting short the session,” said one of the two officials, who are involved in the functioning of parliament proceedings.

The government has also mandated daily tests for journalist entering parliament to cover the session from Saturday.

Piyush Soperna, joint director at the country’s upper house’s secretariat, said in an email response that it has no information on the issue of prematurely ending the parliament session next week.

India, which recorded 93,337 new infections in the last 24 hours, has been posting the highest single-day caseload in the world since early August, according to a Reuters tally.

India is the second-most badly hit country after United States with total recorded coronavirus cases at 5.3 million.

However, deaths in India have been relatively low.

The virus has killed 1,247 people in last 24 hours, taking the total death toll to 85,619, government data showed on Saturday.

The lawmakers who have been infected include Nitin Gadkari, highways and medium and small enterprises minister in Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s cabinet.

On Wednesday, India’s federal government ordered its states not to hoard oxygen supplies and allow free movement to cope with the rising number of cases.

Indonesia

Indonesia reported its biggest daily rise in coronavirus infections with 3,963 new cases on Wednesday, data from the country’s health ministry showed.

Indonesia has now reported 228,993 infections.

The data added 135 new COVID-19 related deaths, taking the total to 9,100, the biggest death toll in Southeast Asia

The Indonesian government said there are more than 1,000 clusters of the COVID-19 infections across the country, the government’s spokesperson for the COVID-19 Mitigation, Reisa Broto Asmoro said.

A woman wearing a face mask walks her dogs on a beach in Melbourne on Sept 11, 2020, as the city continues to enforce lockdown measures to battle a second wave of the COVID-19. (PHOTO / AFP)

Australia

The Australian state at the center of the country’s coronavirus outbreak on Saturday reported its lowest daily increase of infections in three months, putting it on course to relax a hard lockdown in the capital city by the end of the month.

Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state and home to a quarter of its 25 million people, recorded 21 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19 in the prior 24 hours, less than half the previous day’s number and its lowest since June 24.

“Those numbers tell a powerful story of what can be achieved when you stay the course, when you don’t get sidetracked by some of the loudest voices, who I understand are hurting and want to open up,” state Premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference.

“We would all like to open up as quickly as possible, but we won’t be open for very long if we don’t first get these numbers down to a low level.”

Australia’s seven other states and territories had not reported daily case numbers yet on Saturday but in recent weeks they have had single-digit or zero case increases.

Victoria reported seven new COVID-19 deaths, taking the national total to 844, according to government figures. The state has had 90 percent of Australia’s coronavirus-related deaths.

Australia has reported just under 26,900 infections. The country had largely escaped the high casualty numbers of many others as the virus swept the world, but a second wave in Victoria put the country on high alert and prompted most states to close their internal borders.

The Victorian capital, Melbourne, has been under one of the toughest lockdowns, including a nightly curfew, but the state government has said it will let construction sites, manufacturing plants, warehouses and childcare facilities reopen on Sept 28 if increases in average daily cases stay below 50.

Thailand

Thailand’s lower house of parliament approved the government’s 3.28 trillion baht (US$105 billion) budget, clearing a key hurdle in Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s efforts to boost spending to revive the pandemic-battered economy.

The spending plan for the year starting Oct. 1 was backed by 270 of 500 lawmakers late Friday in Bangkok, with 121 abstaining. The budget bill was cut from 3.3 trillion baht earlier and debated by lawmakers for three days before being put to vote.

Most of the budget will be used to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, which has put Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy on track for its deepest annual contraction ever. The government and the central bank in April unveiled a 1.9 trillion baht stimulus package after exports and tourism slumped.

The budget proposals will be sent to the Senate next week for approval before a royal endorsement allows for disbursement. While a two-week delay is expected for the process to be completed, the Cabinet has set aside money to be used during the interim to prevent a government shutdown.

Thailand’s central bank and the finance ministry both say the economy is on track for its worst year on record, with the latter predicting gross domestic product will shrink 8.5 percent this year as tourism and trade slump. The country’s previous biggest decline in growth was in 1998 during the Asian financial crisis when it contracted 7.6 percent, official data show.

Lebanon 

Lebanon reported a record 750 new coronavirus cases on Friday. There has been a surge in cases since the massive blast in the capital last month leveled its port, killed more than 180 people and injured thousands.

Meanwhile, Spain recorded 4,697 coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, up 156 from the previous day. There were 432 fatalities in the past week, an increase from 419 in the previous seven days.

Yemen

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Yemen’s government-controlled provinces increased to 2,024 on Friday, as two new cases were officially recorded.

The Yemeni Health Ministry said in a brief press statement that during the past 24 hours, the number of recoveries in the government-controlled areas increased to 1,221 since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus on April 10.

Also, the government announced that the death toll from the deadly respiratory disease climbed to 585 in different areas under its control, including the southern port city of Aden.

Palestine 

A senior Palestinian official announced on Friday that the health ministry will make more efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the Palestinian territories amid surge in daily fatalities and infections.

Ali Abed Rabbo, director of the preventive medicine department at the health ministry, told Xinhua that the ministry will designate special departments and hospitals to provide treatment to the infected cases in all districts.

Meanwhile, the health ministry recorded on Friday 692 new COVID-19 cases and eight more deaths in the Palestinian territories, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 44,037 and the death toll to 286. 

Turkey

Turkey’s biggest city Istanbul adopted alternate working hours for public employees to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic over the rising number of daily cases, Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya announced on Friday.

Speaking at a press conference, Yerlikaya said the new program aimed to reduce the crowd on public transport during rush hours to restrain the contamination risk.

He noted that under the new program, police, gendarmerie, and coast guard officers will have their shifts start at 7 a.m. while municipality workers at 8 am. and health workers at 8:30 a.m. All other public employees will work between 9:00 a.m to 4:30 pm.

The governor emphasized that the alternate and flexible working hours would also be adopted for the private sectors as well after finalizing the details.

In Istanbul, with a population of over 16 million, there are 5.5 million public employees, he said, adding that currently, 4.1 million people are using public transport each day. This number was previously 7.5 million before the pandemic, according to Yerlikaya.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced from his Twitter account that the total number of people infected with the disease has almost reached 300,000 in the country as of Friday.  

Turkey’s confirmed COVID-19 cases increased by 1,771 on Friday, raising the total diagnosed patients to 299,810, the Turkish Health Ministry announced.

Meanwhile, 62 people died in the past 24 hours, taking the death toll to 7,377, according to the data shared by the ministry.

The United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Friday announced 865 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 83,433.

At the same time, 673 more patients have recovered from the virus, taking the tally of recoveries in the UAE to 72,790, UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention said.

It also confirmed one more death, pushing the country’s death toll to 403.

The UAE was the first among the Gulf countries to report COVID-19 cases.

Nepal

With record high infection of over 2,000 cases in a single day, COVID-19 cases in Nepal surpassed 60,000 mark, Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population said.

“The coronavirus cases reached 61,593 on Friday with 2020 new cases confirmed in the last 24 hours,” Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson at the health ministry said at a regular press briefing on Friday.

It is for the first time that the daily infection rate crossed over 2,000. Last record high cases were reported on September 16 when the Himalayan country had confirmed 1,539 new cases.

This spike in cases has appeared in the wake of the reopening of the long-haul public transportation service, domestic flights and reopening of hotels and restaurants starting from September 17. The Nepali government has relaxed the provision of reopening the shops.

Although the COVID-19 cases were on decline after early July, the cases resurged after the Nepali government lifted the lockdown starting from July 22.

India

India’s federal health ministry Friday said about 30 COVID-19 vaccines were under various stages of development in the country.

According to the ministry, of the 30 vaccines, three were in the advanced stage.

“Nationally, nearly 30 COVID-19 vaccine candidates are under development, by both industry and academia. These vaccines are in different stages of pre-clinical and clinical development of which three candidates are in advanced stage of Phase I/II/III trials and four are in advanced pre-clinical development stage,” Federal Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told the Indian parliament.

One COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be available by the beginning of the next year, said the minister.

According to the minister, a high-level expert group was looking into matters related to vaccine distribution and immunization.

India Friday said the number of COVID-19 cases in the country has reached 5,214,677 including 84,372 deaths.

Israel

Israel’s Ministry of Health reported 27 new COVID-19 death cases on Friday, bringing the total fatalities to 1,196.

This is the highest daily rise of death cases since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country in late February, as the previous record was 23, registered on Sept. 10.

The ministry also reported 3,815 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of cases to 179,071.

The number of patients in serious condition rose from 573 to 581, out of 1,195 patients currently hospitalized.

The number of ventilated patients in Israel also reached a record high of 158.

The number of recoveries increased to 130,024, with 3,695 new recoveries, while the number of active cases rose to 47,851.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan has reported 626 COVID-19 cases over the previous 24 hours, bringing the nationwide count to 50,253, the country’s health ministry said.

Uzbekistan has recorded its youngest casualty of the disease, an 11-year-old patient who had other illnesses such as chronic renal failure and anemia, the ministry said in a separate statement.

Currently, 3,307 patients in the country are being treated, while 46,527 recoveries and 419 deaths have been recorded, it said.  

Qatar

The Qatari health ministry on Friday announced 224 new COVID-19 infections, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the Gulf state to 122,917, the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported.

Meanwhile, 209 more recovered from the virus, bringing the total recoveries to 119,822, while the fatalities increased by one to 209, according to a ministry statement quoted by QNA.

The ministry reiterated the need to take preventive measures, including staying at home and observing social distancing.

A total of 714,183 persons in Qatar have taken lab tests for COVID-19 so far.

Myanmar

The death toll of COVID-19 recorded 70 with new deaths on Friday night, according to a release from the Health and Sports Ministry.

Nine more COVID-19 patients died while 168 new infection cases were reported on Friday night.

The number of COVID-19 confirmed cases reached 4,467 so far, the release said.

As of Friday night, 1,130 patients have been discharged from hospitals.

According to the ministry’s figures, a total of 212,826 samples were tested for COVID-19 at the laboratories as of Friday while 10,718 patients are under investigation at present.

Singapore

Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 11 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 57,543.

Of the new cases, one is an imported case, one is a community case and the rest are linked with the dormitories of foreign workers.

On Friday, 32 more cases of COVID-19 infection have been discharged from hospitals or community isolation facilities. In all, 57,071 have fully recovered from the infection and have been discharged from hospitals or community care facilities, the ministry said.

There are currently 38 confirmed cases who are still in hospital. Of these, most are stable or improving, and none is in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

Furthermore, 407 are isolated and cared for at community facilities. These are those who have mild symptoms, or are clinically well but still test positive for COVID-19.

Altogether 27 people have passed away from complications due to the COVID-19 infection.  

New Zealand

New Zealand reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, said the Ministry of Health in a statement.

Of the two new cases, one was a recent returnee in a managed isolation facility, and the second was a community case with its source still being investigated, said the ministry.

Its total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported to the World Health Organization now reached 1,460, said the ministry.

The total number of active cases in New Zealand reduced to 67 including four COVID-19 patients in Auckland hospitals.

Laboratories across New Zealand processed 8,359 tests, bringing the total number of tests completed to date to 905,436. 

Myanmar 

Myanmar reported five more COVID-19 deaths with 154 new cases on Saturday morning, according to a release from the Health and Sports Ministry.

As of Saturday morning, the death toll reached 75 while the number of infections was recorded at 4,621, the release said.

During the second wave of the outbreak starting Aug. 16, infection cases are increasing daily in the country, especially in Yangon region.

To accommodate the increasing number of infected patients, the government has been arranging temporary hospitals in the region.

Reference