The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) reiterated on Tuesday that all information they put out about Taal Volcano are backed by scientific data and not meant to sow panic.
Maria Antonia Bornas, chief of the Phivolcs Volcano Monitoring and Eruption Prediction Division, issued the statement as a response to Talisay, Batangas Vice Mayor Charlie Natanauan, who demanded the agency to change its “opinion” so affected residents can gain access to locked down areas.
More than a week since its phreatic eruption on 12 January, the volcano remained under Alert Level 4 which means a hazardous eruption could still happen anytime.
Talisay is among the high-risk and hardest hit areas by last week’s ash fall ordered to be on total lockdown, a move criticized by Natanauan.
The vice mayor even criticized Phivolcs director Renato Solidum for his “sensationalized” assessment of the situation.
“We can understand that he (Natanauan) is under so much stress. We would like to respect the vice mayor’s feelings, but at the same time, we are firm in our science that we are doing our best,” Bornas said in a press briefing.
“We understand their plight. We will be the first one to say if it’s safe to go back. We have them in mind all the time.”
The agency has registered weaker volcanic earthquakes, but said that the amount of emitted sulfur dioxide (SO2) is fluctuating, which means magma is actively degassing beneath the volcano.
Phivolcs also cautioned that Taal Volcano could only be “recharging” for a bigger eruption and that the alert level would only be lowered once there is a consistent downward trend in volcanic activity.
‘Shut up and help’
Meanwhile, Police Regional Office 4A (PRO-4A) acting regional director, P/BGen. Vicente Danao, urged Natanauan to just buckle down to helping alleviate the situation of his affected constituents instead of inciting anarchy.
“I’m calling on the vice mayor of Talisay, Batangas not to encourage residents to go back to their respective homes until clearance is given by Phivolcs,” Danao said in a radio interview.
The official went on by warning Natanauan that he will take drastic action if Talisay locals are put in harm’s way because of his pronouncements.
“If they go back to their homes and something bad happens to them, if I see you alive, I will turn you into an offering for the Taal Volcano,” he quipped.
Danao then assured the Calabarzon police is exerting all its efforts to ensure the safety and security of all those affected by the volcano’s eruption, especially those within the 14-kilometer danger zone.
He likewise called on private citizens who will be conducting relief operations in Batangas to first coordinate with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council for the proper distribution of donations as there are still many evacuation centers not given ample relief goods.
Rio postpones world-famous carnival over Covid-19
Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous carnival parades became the latest casualty of the coronavirus pandemic Thursday as officials announced they were indefinitely postponing the February 2021 edition, with Brazil still reeling from Covid-19.
Rio’s carnival, the world’s biggest, is an epidemiologist’s nightmare in a pandemic: an extended festival of tightly packed crowds dancing through the streets and flocking to the city’s iconic “Sambadrome” for massive parades featuring scantily clad dancers, small armies of drummers and all-night partying at close quarters.
The event draws millions of tourists from around Brazil and the world to the beachside city each year.
The city’s elite samba schools, which typically spend the entire year preparing their elaborate parades, had said in July it would be difficult to organize the event for February 2021 if there were still no certainty of a vaccine for the new coronavirus by late September.
Meeting again to assess the situation, “we came to the conclusion that the event had to be postponed,” said Jorge Castanheira, the president of the group that organizes the annual parades, the Independent League of Samba Schools of Rio de Janeiro (LIESA).
“We just can’t do it in February. The samba schools won’t have the time or financial and organizational resources to be ready,” he told journalists after a plenary meeting by the group’s directors.
“It’s not a cancellation, it’s a postponement. We are looking for an alternative solution, something we can do when it’s safe to contribute to the city…. But we aren’t certain enough to set a date.”
In reality, “carnival” comprises numerous events, from the elite samba school parade contest organized by LIESA to less-formal “blocos,” or street parties.
LIESA’s announcement applies only to the samba school competition. City authorities have not yet announced whether “blocos” will be allowed.
Speculation had been mounting that authorities would have to cancel or postpone carnival in 2021, given that Brazil is the country with the second-highest death toll in the pandemic, after the United States, and is still struggling to bring the virus under control.
Brazil has registered 4.7 million infections and nearly 140,000 deaths from Covid-19.
And while the spread of the virus has slowed somewhat since its July peak, the numbers are still alarmingly high in Brazil, with an average of nearly 30,000 new cases and 735 new deaths per day over the past two weeks, according to health ministry figures.
Brazil has struggled to set a cohesive policy to deal with the pandemic.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has railed against lockdown measures as a catastrophe for the economy, and downplayed the disease as a “little flu,” despite being forced into quarantine for nearly three weeks when he caught it himself in July.
Rio de Janeiro has been the state hit second-hardest in Brazil, after Sao Paulo, the country’s industrial hub.
With 18,000 people killed so far, if Rio state were a country, it would have the world’s second-highest mortality rate from Covid-19, at 104 deaths per 100,000 residents.
Novavax enters late-stage clinical trials
US biotech firm Novavax said Thursday it was initiating its final Phase 3 clinical trial for its experimental Covid-19 vaccine.
The trial will be carried out in the United Kingdom and aims to enroll 10,000 volunteers, aged 18-84, with and without underlying conditions, over the next four to six weeks.
“With a high level of SARS-CoV-2 transmission observed and expected to continue in the UK, we are optimistic that this pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial will enroll quickly and provide a near-term view of NVX-CoV2373’s efficacy,” said Gregory Glenn, the company’s president of research and development, using the technical name for the formulation.
It is the eleventh Covid-19 vaccine candidate to reach the Phase 3 stage globally.
The company has been awarded $1.6 billion by the US government to develop and fund the drug, which is administered by two intramuscular injections.
The Maryland-based company uses insect cells to grow synthesized pieces of the spike protein of the virus, which it hopes will evoke a robust human immune response.
It also uses an “adjuvant,” a compound that boosts the production of neutralizing antibodies.
The company says the drug, which is a liquid formulation, can be stored at two degrees celsius to eight degrees celsius, refrigerator temperature.
In the spring, the company said it had proven the efficacy of a seasonal flu vaccine it had developed using the same technology.
PPA launches contact tracing app TRAZE
The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) has launched a contact tracing mobile application called TRAZE for use in all public ports in the country.
The launch of TRAZE is part of the Department of Transportation’s (DoTr) effort to control the spread of COVID-19 in the maritime sector. It will help hasten the conduct of contact tracing for COVID-19 cases using only a mobile phone even without an Internet.
In accordance with the directive of DoTr Secretary Arthur Tugade to expand the use of technology in transportation programs and systems under the new normal.
How to use the app is contained in the video instruction link https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1824140961058365&id=130406490431829.
The DoTr and PPA reminded the public to be well-informed and to cooperate with the initiatives of the government in fighting the spread of COVID-19.
Iloilo City reverts to MECQ until Oct. 9
Iloilo City would revert to modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) from 25 September until 9 October following a spike of COVID-19 cases.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said this was the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases as formalized in its Resolution No. 74.
Earlier in the day, Mayor Jerry Treñas announced in a Facebook post that the local government’s COVID Team has recommended to impose a 15-day MECQ in the city, which is currently under a more lenient modified general community quarantine.
Under MECQ, all citizens are required to stay home, except those working in essential businesses or authorized persons outside residence. Public transportation and domestic flights are also suspended.
Treñas recently placed the city hall under a three-day lockdown after 33 of its employees from the Treasurer’s Office contracted the dreaded virus.
The city also imposed total lockdowns in 13 of its barangays to control virus transmission.
House COVID-19 cases rises to 81
Another employee from the office of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has tested positive for COVID-19 raising to 81 the number of infected workers at the House of Representatives.
The latest case reported for work on 21 to 23 September and got tested after experiencing dry and itchy throat.
Meanwhile, two confirmed cases at the House have recovered, bringing down total active cases to 13.
PLDT assures connectivity during emergency maintenance
Online classes and work from home won’t be disrupted when PLDT undertakes emergency maintenance activities of one of its submarine cable systems for five days, the telecommunications firm said in a Facebook advisory.
“In light of the emergency maintenance activities of one of our submarine cable systems Asia-America Gateway from September 26, 9AM to September 30, 5AM (Philippine Standard Time),we wish to assure PLDT and Smart customers of continued internet connectivity all throughout,” read the post in PLDT’s Facebook page Thursday evening.
“Students can still do their online studies and exams, and users in homes and businesses can go about their normal internet-based activities during this time,” it added.
PLDT said it has identified alternative cable systems to keep its connectivity resilient. Moreover, it adopted measures such as traffic rerouting and local caching to ensure that most frequently downloaded content are located in the Philippines.
Arroyo raises possibility of 2022 presidential polls suspension
Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo on Thursday has raised the possibility of suspending the 2022 presidential elections in case the pandemic continues to drag on.
At the hearing of the Commission on Elections proposed 2021 budget, Arroyo, son of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, asked the poll chief Sheriff Abas if the body would consider postponing the national elections because of the pandemic.
Arroyo said that he is “very sure that many contaminations will happen” once the elections are pushed through.
“Do you consider the proposal of postponing the elections…coming from you and not from us, the members of the Congress? Because people might think we have a motive to extend our term,” said Arroyo.
He further mentioned the sentiments of the businessmen in his district, saying they opted to abstain from voting in the next election because they are afraid to contract the deadly virus.
“I hope the thought will linger in their minds. I’m not saying they should do it, just consider it,” he added.
In response, Abas said elections cannot be put off because it is a “Constitutional provision”. And besides, it is only the president and the Congress
could decide on the matter.
Nonetheless, the body had already created a committee that will prepare for the 2022 elections in case the pandemic continues.
Comelec Executive Director Bartolome Sinocruz, for his part, said if the pandemic persists until the next two years, it will implement the procedures applied in overseas absentee voting where Filipinos abroad could vote within a 30-day schedule.
He added that they will limit the voters inside a precinct to a maximum of five.
EU urges new measures to head off virus second wave
The European Commission urged EU members states Thursday to better explain and enforce social distancing and hygiene rules to halt a dangerous new wave of coronavirus infections.
Health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “In some member states, the situation is now even worse than during the peak in March. This is a real cause for concern.
“All member states need to roll out measures immediately and at the right time at the very first sign of potential new outbreaks.”
Europe has now had more than five million coronavirus cases, and several countries have begun reimposing local lockdown rules to head off a return to uncontrolled spread.
The death rate has not returned to the levels seen earlier this year, but cases of new infections are soaring once again in many areas.
But Kyriakides, whose office has sought to coordinate the response across the 27 member states, warned that some areas had clearly begun to lift restrictions too soon.
“What this means, to be very clear, is that the control measures taken have simply not being effective enough or not being enforced or followed as they should have been,” she said.
“We cannot lower our guard. This crisis is not behind us. Moreover, winter is the time of the year for more respiratory illnesses, including seasonal influenza.”
And she warned: “Today we’re here to call on everyone to act decisively… it might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.”
Kyriakides said that member state governments would have to fight misinformation about the virus and reach out to young people to head off protests and conspiracy theories.
And she warned they will have to act quickly to prevent a need for a return to generalized lockdowns, which she said would hurt the economy, education, and the mental health of the public.
AFP, Facebook eye partnership to push fight versus terrorism, insurgency
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and social media giant Facebook tackled the possibility of entering into an agreement to strengthen the government’s counterterrorism and anti-insurgency efforts, particularly going after those who are exploting the Internet to advance their cause.
AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Gilbert Gapay held a virtual meeting with Facebook Philippines’ Head of Public Policy, Clare Amador, on Wednesday, 23 September, to discuss ways both parties can work together to make cyberspace a safer haven for Filipino netizens.
Amador discussed global efforts being exerted by Facebook, a member of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), to fight terrorism propagated online and how it is dealing with harmful content on its platform.
Established in 2017, GIFCT is a consortium of companies dedicated to disrupting terrorist abuse of members’ digital platforms.
“We laud and express gratitude to the members of the GIFCT, including Facebook, for stepping up in its self-regulation initiatives that targets the dissemination of extremist propaganda, including photos and videos of terrorist violence. We likewise in the security sector shall extend any assistance as needed and our lines of cooperation shall always be open,” Gapay.
To recall, Gapay, upon his assumption as military chief, hinted in suggesting having a more stringent monitoring of suspected terrorists’ social media account in the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Anti-Terrorism Law.
Gapay pointed to many documented cases wherein social media was used by terror groups to sow violence, among them the Daesh’s reign of terror in the Middle East and the country’s own experience in fighting the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group in the 2017 Marawi City siege.
Social networks, Gapay stated, were used as conduits in spreading violent extremism and terrorist propaganda.
The use of private messaging apps also continues as a means for terrorists to initiate communication with unsuspecting netizens followed by personally mediated and face-to-face meetings which end up in their recruitment and eventual radicalization.
“We seek an open and above-board partnership with social networking sites to prevent and counter the spread of violent extremism, without curtailing the rights of users to free expression and information,” noted Gapay.