Asia Today: Duterte extends virus calamity status by a year

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — President Rodrigo Duterte says he has extended a state of calamity in the entire Philippines by a year to allow the government to draw emergency funds faster to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and harness the police and military to maintain law and order.

Duterte first placed the country under a state of calamity in March when the number of confirmed infections was approaching 200 with about a dozen deaths. The country now has more than 290,000 confirmed cases, the highest in Southeast Asia, with nearly 5,000 deaths.

The tough-talking president lashed anew at critics in his televised remarks late Monday for accusing his administration of not doing enough to contain the outbreak.

“What ‘enough’ do you want? There are hospitals, beds and funeral parlors. Everything is there,” Duterte said, specifying Vice President Leni Robredo, who leads the opposition, in his tirade.

“You know Leni, if you want, if you really want to do away with COVID, let’s spray the Philippines or Manila over with pesticide to kill all. … The only thing that we can do, really, is to wear a mask, wear a face mask, and that’s it and wait for the vaccine,” Duterte said in his southern hometown in Davao city.

The state of calamity in place until September 2021 will be used mainly to draw emergency funds quickly anywhere in the country. Officials can also control the prices of basic commodities like rice and cooking oil.

Quarantine restrictions such as social distancing remain as they are now.

Duterte also said a ban on the deployment of Filipino nurses, doctors and other health workers with finalized work contracts abroad has been lifted. Those without signed contracts remain prohibited from leaving the country to ensure an adequate supply of medical workers amid the outbreak.

The Philippines is a leading source of global labor, including medical personnel.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— Health officials say India will have to exercise caution during its upcoming festive season. Autumn is the festival season in many parts of India, a nation where religious celebrations and rituals are a big part of peoples’ lives. October includes Diwali, a festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others. Dr. V.K Paul, who heads a coronavirus taskforce, said Indians need to exercise physical distancing and wear masks while celebrating. He said people congregating during festivals provides the perfect conditions for the virus to spread. The next two to three months will be critical for India, he said. India has been forced to relax virus restrictions despite rising cases due to its devastated economy, which contracted nearly 24% in the second quarter. A harsh nationwide lockdown ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 24 caused a severe economic crisis. The festive period is also deeply linked to the economy, with businesses hoping that sales will pick up. India announced more than 75,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday along with 1,053 more deaths, taking total fatalities to 88,935.

— South Korea has added 61 coronavirus cases, its lowest daily increase since mid-August amid a downward trend in new infections. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Tuesday the additional cases took the country’s total to 23,106, including 388 deaths. It’s the third day in a row that South Korea’s daily virus tally has stayed below 100. South Korea had experienced an uptick in new infections, mostly in the greater Seoul area, since early last month, before its caseload recently began slowing under stringent physical distancing rules.

— South Korea’s prime minister tested negative for the coronavirus on Tuesday after a person working in his office was infected. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun’s office said he underwent the test even though he hadn’t come in contact with the staff member since last Wednesday. Officially, Chung is South Korea’s No. 2 official and has been playing a leading role in government-led efforts to contain the coronavirus. Executive power in South Korea is concentrated in the president.

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