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California rolls back reopening amid resurgent virus

Agence France-Presse

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Governor Gavin Newsom ordered all indoor restaurants, bars and movie theaters to close again across California. (CG photo)

LOS ANGELESUnited States — California drastically rolled back its reopening plans Monday as coronavirus cases surged across dozens of US states and the World Health Organization warned that too many nations are mismanaging their pandemic response.

Governor Gavin Newsom ordered all indoor restaurants, bars and movie theaters to close again across California — by far America’s richest and most populous state, with a larger economy than all but four countries.

Churches as well as gyms, shopping malls, hair salons and non-essential offices must also shut indoor operations in half of the Golden State’s worst-hit and most densely populated counties, including Los Angeles.

“We’re moving back into a modification mode of our original ‘stay-at-home’ order,” said Newsom, whose state was the first to close down in March, but began easing restrictions in May.

The move came as California reported 8,358 new daily coronavirus cases, bringing its total to nearly 330,000 including more than 7,000 deaths.

Like the governors of Texas, Arizona, and Florida — which were also hit hard in the virus’ second spike — California initially declined to issue a statewide mask order and allowed counties to reopen indoor dining, gyms, and bars.

With new infections spreading like wildfire globally, many countries were also reimposing restrictions Monday, locking down towns and cities and reintroducing measures to halt the spread of the sickness.

But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that too many countries were “headed in the wrong direction” with governments giving out mixed messages that were undermining trust.

“There will be no return to the ‘old normal’ for the foreseeable future,” he said, warning that without governments adopting a comprehensive strategy, the situation would get “worse and worse and worse.”

Since the start of July, nearly 2.5 million new infections have been registered across the globe, with the number of cases doubling over the past six weeks, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Latin America on Monday recorded the world’s second-highest death toll, declaring a total of 144,758 deaths to pass the 144,023 recorded in the United States and Canada.

It now stands second only to Europe, where 202,505 people have died.

In Spain, regional officials were in a standoff with courts after a judge suspended a lockdown just hours after it was imposed on 160,000 people in the Catalonia city of Lerida following a sharp rise in cases.

Despite calls to respect the closure, many people were on the streets by mid-afternoon, with shops and bars still open, an AFP correspondent said.

It was the first such order given since Spain’s lockdown ended on June 21.

Reimposing lockdowns

Across the globe, the pandemic has infected nearly 13 million people, killed more than 566,000 and triggered massive economic damage in the seven months since it was detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

South Africa reimposed a nationwide curfew to prevent a “coronavirus storm” from ravaging the continent’s hardest-hit nation, where new infections have topped 12,000 a day.

Morocco followed suit on Monday, locking down Tangiers, with public transport suspended, cafes and public spaces closed and movement restricted in the northern port city of a million inhabitants.

With eyes keenly focused on the economic fallout, the IMF warned Monday that the Middle East and North Africa region was facing its worst downturn in 50 years, citing the “twin shock” of the virus and low oil prices.

Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, counted more than 200 new deaths in 24 hours, pushing its toll over 13,000.

In Asia, the Philippines imposed a two-week lockdown on 250,000 people in the capital Manila as new infections soared, and Hong Kong stepped up precautions to combat a sudden spike in infections.

Restaurants there can only serve takeaway food after 6 p.m., gyms, nightclubs, karaoke bars and beauty salons were shuttered and public gatherings were restricted to four people.

The latest high-profile personality to test positive for COVID-19 was India’s Bollywood superstar and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai.

And two US Marine bases on Japan’s Okinawa island have been locked down after a spike in cases with dozens infected and local officials expressing “serious doubts” about the US military’s containment efforts.

‘Petri dish’

At the weekend, US President Donald Trump wore a face mask in public for the first time, in the world’s worst-hit country where some 135,000 people have died.

California’s announcement came as education officials in Los Angeles and San Diego said the cities’ schools would remain closed when classes resume with online-only lessons next month.

“There’s a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a Petri dish,” said Austin Beutner, schools superintendent for Los Angeles — the nation’s second-largest district with some 600,000 students.

The neighboring state of Oregon banned indoor gatherings of more than 10 people — except at places of worship and businesses — and mandated outdoor face coverings where social distancing is not possible.

And virus epicenter Florida saw 12,624 new cases — the second highest daily count recorded by any state, after its own record of 15,300 new COVID-19 cases a day earlier.

Across the border, Mexico became the country with the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world, climbing to a total of 35,006 and surpassing Italy.

More than 80 millionaires — including Ben and Jerry’s ice cream co-founder Jerry Greenfield and screenwriter Richard Curtis — urged governments around the world to hike taxes on the super-wealthy to help fund the recovery.

Meanwhile, a French expert warned that a fully effective vaccine was highly unlikely by 2021.

And in what may prove a blow to those who have recovered, researchers at Kings College London said COVID-19 survivors could lose their immunity, leaving them vulnerable to reinfection within months.

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PPA launches contact tracing app TRAZE

TDT

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Dumangas port in Iloilo. (RGKRD image)

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.

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Iloilo City reverts to MECQ until Oct. 9

MJ Blancaflor

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Mayor Treñas recently placed the city hall under a three-day lockdown. (SBI image)

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.

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House COVID-19 cases rises to 81

Michelle R. Guillang

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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.

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PLDT assures connectivity during emergency maintenance

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The AAG Cable System is a fiber optic submarine cable from the US to Southeast Asia.

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.

 

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Arroyo raises possibility of 2022 presidential polls suspension

Michelle R. Guillang

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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.

 

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COVID-19 WATCH

EU urges new measures to head off virus second wave

Agence France-Presse

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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.

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AFP, Facebook eye partnership to push fight versus terrorism, insurgency

Kristina Maralit

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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.

 

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PBA bubble gets green light

Bea Micaller

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The resumption of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) 45th season is finally a go.

PBA chairman Ricky Vargas on Thursday announced that they have already secured a provisional authority from the Inter Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) that will effectively allow them to restart their aborted season.

Vargas, who sat down with ranking IATF executives together with PBA commissioner Willie Marcial, said they have already secured the confidence of the government through the help of Bases Conversion and Development Authority chief Vince Dizon, who played a key role in holding the games inside the Clark Freeport Zone using a bubble concept.

“This is a happy event,” said Vargas, who has good relationship with Dizon after serving as president of the Philippine Olympic Committee during the country’s buildup for its hosting of the 30th Southeast Asian Games last year.

“We are happy to announce that, through the help of Sec. Dizon, we have secured the provisional approval of the IATF.”

The PBA had already ironed out all the kinks in its bubble plan.

The league would house around 350 delegates composed of players, coaches and team officials from 12 teams at the Quest Hotel inside Clark Freeport Zone.

Games would be held at the Angeles University Foundation gymnasium starting 11 October, but delegates would start entering the bubble on 28 and 29 September.

But now that the IATF finally issued its green light, the PBA will formally become the first league in the country to open amid the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dizon, who is also the deputy chief implementer of the national COVID-19 task force, explained that the PBA was given provisional authority because its health measures are strict and stringent than that of the Joint Administrative Order (JAO) group, which is composed of the Philippine Sports Commission, Department of Health and Games and Amusement Board.

“The current issue here is that the protocols stated in JAO are different from the protocols set by the PBA for the bubble,” Dizon said.

“We just need to amend the protocols and with the provisional approval, we now have the authority to begin the bubble.”

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Chief Justice Peralta mulls holding online Bar exams next year

Hananeel Bordey

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In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court is considering online Bar examinations in 2021, said Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta.

During the Senate Finance Committee’s deliberations of the  Judiciary’s budget for 2021, Senator Francis Tolentino has asked the magistrate if it is possible to hold the examination virtually.

Tolentino, a lawyer, noted that this has been considered in other countries, specifically in Michigan, District of Columbia, Louisiana, and New York in the United States.

“We are thinking of that. We are considering that. Next year probably,” Peralta said noting that the Bar Examinations for 2020 have been postponed following the declaration of state of emergency brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Peralta also informed the committee that the high court has decided to hold bar exams simultaneously in Manila, Cebu, and one in Mindanao.

“We will not hold anymore the 2020 bar exams. We have moved the bar exams to November 2021. So there are no more bar exams for the year 2020. So ang mangyayari magkaksabay yung 2020 at 2021,” he said.

Peralta along with Court Administrator Midas Marquez virtually attended the Senate hearing to present the Judiciary’s budget for 2021.

For next year, the Judiciary proposed P55.88 billion but the Executive Department only allotted P43.54 billion under the 2021 National Expenditures Program.

The Judiciary has also presented their “motion for reconsideration” before Congress asking the Senate to revive the P6.58 billion worth of expenditures from their original budget proposal.

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