Asia Today: Manila back under lockdown as virus cases surge

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Photo credit Women exit from a disinfecting area after buying food at a public market in preparation for stricter lockdown measures in Quezon city, Philippines on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is reimposing a moderate lockdown in the capital and outlying provinces after medical groups appealed for the move as coronavirus infections surge alarmingly. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Commuter trains, buses and other public vehicles stayed off the main roads of the Philippine capital Tuesday and police were again staffing checkpoints to restrict public travel as surging virus cases forced another lockdown.

Officials deployed dozens of shuttle buses, along with army trucks, to ferry stranded medical personnel and workers of authorized businesses. Most domestic flights to and from the capital were cancelled, and night curfews will return in places.

Crowds trooped to some supermarkets Monday to stock up on food after the hasty return to a lockdown sparked panic-buying.

The lockdown is milder than was first one imposed, which largely confined most people to their homes for weeks, but is more severe than the quarantine restrictions the capital had been under recently. It is being imposed in metropolitan Manila and outlying provinces for two weeks.

Businesses previously allowed to partly reopen, including barbershops, gyms, dine-in restaurants and tourist destinations, will again be closed. Authorized companies including banks, health and food processing firms must shuttle their employees between home and work. Travelling by bike, motorcycle and private car is allowed for essential reasons, but mass transit will be closed.

President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to reinstate the lockdown after medical groups warned the health care system was being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. More than 106,000 people have been infected, including more than 2,100 who have died.

In other developments in Asia and the Pacific:

— Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state banned people who should be self-isolating from exercising outside their homes and introduced tougher fines for infected people who continue to go to work. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said self-isolation was hard to enforce if people used a lawful excuse to justify other decisions. Military and health teams who knocked on the doors of 3,000 homes recently could not find 800 people who should have been there because they had the virus or were awaiting a test result. The government has also increased the fine for failing to self-isolate from 1,652 Australian dollars ($1,169) to AU$4,957 ($3,507). The most serious cases could also be taken to court and fined up to AU$20,000 ($14,151), Andrews said. Victoria reported 439 new cases overnight and 11 new deaths.

— Both mainland China and Hong Kong reported fewer new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday as strict measures to contain new infections appear to be taking effect. Mainland China announced 36 new cases across the country, down from 43 the previous day. Of those, 28 were in the northwestern region of Xinjiang and two in Liaoning province in the northeast. Another six cases were brought by Chinese arriving from overseas. Hong Kong reported 78 new cases, the first time in almost two weeks that new cases had fallen into double-digits. Authorities ordered mask wearing in public places, restrictions on indoor dining and increased testing to contain the city's outbreak. China’s central government also sent a medical team to assist in efforts and an exhibition center has been converted into a temporary hospital in the event beds run short. Deaths from the disease in Hong Kong have risen to 38 among 3,589 total cases.