PH Customs fast-tracks release of face mask shipments amid COVID-19 threat

Robie de Guzman   •   February 14, 2020   •   497

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) on Friday said it has expedited the processing of shipments containing face masks amid increasing demand for surgical masks and other personal protective gear in view of the continuing threat of the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

In a statement, the BOC said that since the discovery of the COVID-19, the bureau has been rushing the release of shipments of face masks in a bid to help secure the public from the deadly coronavirus strain.

Data from the bureau showed that 210 cartons, 10 boxes, 5 packages, and 115 pieces of face/surgical masks were released from January to February 2020.

In Port of Davao, there were 210 cartons and 5 packages of face/surgical masks released in January 2020.

“Another 10 boxes and 115 pieces of face/surgical masks were also released on February 12, 2020 from the Port of NAIA,” the BOC said.

“The improved processing of importations of face masks is part of the Bureau’s commitment to serve public interest and provide them with immediate assistance and support as it continues to perform its mandate of facilitating trade, strengthening border protection and collecting revenues,” it added.

2 of 3 Filipinos from Japan showing COVID-19 symptoms test negative

Robie de Guzman   •   February 28, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Two of the three Filipino repatriates from the virus-stricken cruise ship in Japan tested negative for COVID-19 despite manifesting symptoms of the deadly coronavirus disease while under quarantine, the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday, February 28.

The DOH said that based on laboratory test results that came out this morning, two Filipinos turned out negative for the infection while one is still awaiting results.

The two repatriates who tested negative no longer need to undergo another set of laboratory test but will be placed under strict monitoring, the agency added.

The DOH also assured all three are in stable condition.

Based on the Philippines’ quarantine guidelines, persons exhibiting signs and symptoms of the disease should be separated from asymptomatic individuals for observation.

Those who are found infected with the virus will be placed in isolation in a health facility while those who tested negative will continue the quarantine period at a facility in New Clark City.

The three were brought to a hospital in Central Luzon on Thursday morning after they experienced sore throat and dry cough.

They were among the more than 400 Filipinos evacuated from the coronavirus-hit MV Diamond Princess cruise ship off Yokohama, Japan last Tuesday, February 25, and placed under 14-day quarantine at New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac.

The cruise ship was placed on quarantine after a passenger tested positive for COVID-19.

Of the 3,700 passengers and crew members, more than 700 were found infected with coronavirus, including 80 Filipinos.

All asymptomatic persons aboard the vessel have already disembarked, while those infected were admitted at hospitals in Japan for proper treatment. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

Milan braces economic slowdown after spike in coronavirus cases

UNTV News   •   February 27, 2020

Milan, capital city of northern Italy’s Lombardy region is seeing a drastic economic slowdown, after a spike of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the region, raising anxiety about a broader slowdown.

A total of 400 people tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Italy, up by 26 from the official tally released at noon, Civil Protection chief and Extraordinary Commissioner for the Coronavirus Emergency Angelo Borrelli told a televised press conference on Wednesday.

The number includes the deaths, which remained unchanged at 12, and the three recovered, Borrelli said.

Among the confirmed cases, 258 are in Lombardy, and another 71 are in the Veneto region with Venice as its regional capital, 47 in Emilia Romagna, and 11 in Liguria.

While the government has ordered a lockdown of 11 communities and the cancellation of all schools and public events in five northern regions, many big businesses have chosen to implement a “work smart” policy, telling employees to work from home.

Milan is no ghost town, but it has clearly slowed down, as the usually bustling main train station is quiet, public transit is empty, and taxis sit idle. Even Milan’s Fashion industry, has been hit.

Carlo Capasa, Chairman of the Italian Chamber of Fashion, said the virus affected sales in China and now is threatening Italy.

“Well, the effect is quite strong because in China, as you know, for many days, most of the department stores they were deserted, so the business has been dropping dramatically. Now we are afraid that the retail in Italy could suffer a little bit. Between what Chinese buy in China and what Chinese customers shop here, it goes around 30 percent, it’s a big market,” said Capasa.

Italy’s tourism industry has also felt the pinch.

Milan is clearly not void of tourists, but the number saw a decrease. In 2019, tourism brought a profit of 40 billion euros to Italy, 13 percent of its gross domestic product.

Italy’s northern regions and in particular the regions of Lombardy and Veneto where the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases have been discovered are among the richest, the most dynamic and the most export-intensive in a country with a public debt three times its GDP.

The Bank of Italy has estimated a 0.2-percent loss of GDP growth due to COVID-19.

However, Marco Bettin, Chief Operating Officer at the Italy China Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting the annual 40-billion-euro bilateral cooperation, said it’s too early to quantify the economic impact.

“Up to now we don’t have heavy consequences on the supply chain because most of the supply has been made before the Chinese New Year. So now we are experienced–. It is very hard to say, because the situation is still ongoing,” said Bettin.

While masks have been sold out for days and hand sanitizer has doubled in price, pictures circulating of panic buying and empty shelves across the city have been exaggerated, at least for now.

Residents appear far from panicked, but there is growing anxiety as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the country.

Secretive church at centre of South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak faces new scrutiny

UNTV News   •   February 27, 2020

The controversial South Korean religious sect at the centre of a new coronavirus outbreak is facing the biggest crisis in its 36-year history, as hundreds of its members have tested positive, drawing unprecedented scrutiny from authorities and the public.

South Korea reported 334 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday (February 27) bringing the national tally to 1,595. More than 1,000 of them are from the city of Daegu, according to the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), nearly 600 directly linked to a branch of the Shincheonji church there.

The number of cases spiked since a 61-year-old woman known as “Patient 31” who attended services there tested positive on February 18. KCDC said it is still investigating the exact origin of the outbreak but five to six other members of the church contracted the virus together with the woman.

An So-young had a gut feeling that the 31st person in South Korea to test positive for the coronavirus might be a member of the controversial religious sect she quit four years ago.

“That’s their culture, they have to hide their movements, and that’s why I guessed she was with Shincheonji,” An, 27, said in an interview, referring to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

“You would be like 5 centimetres away from the person who sits next to you, and would have to say ‘amen’ after every sentence that the pastor speaks – it’s the best environment for the virus to spread,” An said, who left Shincheonji in 2016 after spending five years as a follower.

According to An, new members are forced to leave home and live in dormitories as part of initiation, and many break ties with family. An herself almost severed contact with her own family during her time with Shincheonji.

Shincheonji’s secretive practices and sometime aggressive recruitment efforts have made the church a controversial presence in South Korea’s religious community.

“It may appear Christian but is actually completely different…They revere founder Lee Man-hee as a saviour, like Jesus,” said Lee Duck-sure, a counsellor who helps former members of the church. “Everything is secret,” he added.

After initial resistance, the church has released the addresses of 1,100 facilities around the country – 82 churches and 1,018 “affiliates” – and asked the public to stop from making “groundless criticism,” claiming it was the “biggest victim of the virus.”

Police raided the church’s main offices in Gwacheon on Tuesday (February 25) after provincial authorities said they could no longer wait, nor rely on information provided by the church.

Calls by Reuters to the church’s headquarters repeatedly went answered.

The outbreak and the church’s opaque nature have fuelled public anger in South Korea. A petition with the presidential Blue House calling for Shincheonji to be disbanded has gathered more than 780,000 signatures since it was initiated two days ago.

On Friday (February 21) afternoon, the Daegu church was shuttered and silent, surrounded by empty streets and closed stores. Someone had thrown eggs at the front gate of the building, a sign of the anger that has simmered since the outbreak.

Doo Song-Ja, 64, said she had not heard from her daughter since 2015 after she joined the church.

“I’m so worried because so many Shincheonji followers are testing positive (for the virus) but I don’t know where she is,” said Doo, who said her 33-year-old daughter has sued her for “forcible confinement” for trying to keep her home. (Reuters)

(Production: Daewoung Kim, Dogyun Kim, Minwoo Park, Hyunyoung Yi)

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