The death toll from China's coronavirus outbreak soared to 722 on Saturday, including the first foreign victim, as Hong Kong imposed a mandatory quarantine on mainland arrivals to block the spread of an epidemic that has caused global panic.

China virus toll hits 722, with first foreign victim

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by Laurent THOMET

The death toll from China’s coronavirus outbreak soared to 722 on Saturday, including the first foreign victim, as Hong Kong imposed a mandatory quarantine on mainland arrivals to block the spread of an epidemic that has caused global panic.

With 86 more people dying in mainland China — the highest one-day jump so far — the toll was closing in on the 774 killed worldwide during the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic.

A 60-year-old US citizen diagnosed with the virus died on Thursday in Wuhan, the city at the epicentre of the health emergency, according to the US embassy, which did not provide more details about the person.

A Japanese man in his 60s with a suspected coronavirus infection also died in hospital in Wuhan, the Japanese foreign ministry said, adding that it was “difficult” to confirm if he had the illness.

The only fatalities outside the mainland were a Chinese man in the Philippines and a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong.

Nearly 35,000 people have been infected by the new strain, which is believed to have emerged in a market selling wild animals in Wuhan last year before spreading across China.

The epidemic has prompted the government to lock down cities home to tens of millions of people, as anger mounts over its handling of the crisis, especially after a whistleblowing doctor fell victim to the virus.

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, on a visit to quarantined Wuhan this week, instructed officials to take a “wartime” approach as they implement drastic measures that include combing the city for feverish residents.

With panic spiralling around the globe — more than 320 cases have emerged in nearly 30 other countries — researchers are racing to find treatments and a vaccine to fight the virus.

While the World Health Organization is set to give the disease a name within days, China’s National Health Commission said it would temporarily call it “novel coronavirus pneumonia,” or NCP.

– Hong Kong quarantine –
Hong Kong began enforcing a two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from mainland China, under threat of both fines and jail terms.

Most people will be able to be quarantined at home or in hotels but they will face daily phone calls and spot checks.

The financial hub has 25 confirmed cases with one patient who died earlier this week.

The city has been on edge as the virus has revived memories of the SARS outbreak that killed 299 in the semi-autonomous city.

The SARS epidemic left profound psychological scars and saddled residents with a deep distrust of authorities in Beijing who initially covered up the outbreak.

In the last week, Hong Kong has been hit by a wave of panic-buying with supermarket shelves frequently emptied of staple goods such as toilet paper, hand sanitiser, rice and pasta.

Similar scenes were seen in Singapore on Saturday as shoppers cleared grocery store shelves after the city-state, which has 33 confirmed cases, raised its alert level over the virus.

China has expanded its own measures far from the epicentre, with cities hundreds of kilometres from Hubei telling residents that only one person per household can leave the house every two days to buy supplies.

On Saturday, Shanghai became the latest jurisdiction to order residents to wear masks in public places, warning that those who don’t cooperate will be “seriously” dealt with according to the law.

Anger over the government’s handling of the health emergency erupted on social media on Friday after the death of a Wuhan doctor who was silenced by police after he had raised the alarm about the emerging virus threat in December.

The government responded by sending its anti-graft body to Wuhan to launch an investigation after the death of Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who contracted the disease while treating a patient.

– Cruise ship quarantined –
Other governments around the world have hardened their defences, with several countries banning arrivals from China while major airlines have suspended flights.

Asian cruise ships have become a focal point.

Sixty-four people aboard the Diamond Princess off Japan’s coast have tested positive and passengers aboard the ship have been asked to stay inside their cabins to prevent new infections.

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POLITIKO / Across the Nation

POLITIKO / Latest News

DOJ assures review of gov’t drug-related ops will continue

The government will continue to review anti-illegal drugs operations where deaths have occurred, Department of Justice (DOJ) Undersecretary Adrian Sugay assured on Friday (Feb. 26).

“What we have thus far is an initial report,” Sugay pointed out.

“And we intend to continue the review of cases involving anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred,” he assured.

“We intend to come out with further findings and recommendations,” he added.

Last Wednesday (Feb. 24) Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra reported there were irregularities in the police drug operations during the review conducted by the DOJ-led inter-agency panel.

“Any and all possible administrative/criminal liability against those involved in these anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred may be pursued depending on any further findings/recommendations,” Sugay also assured.

May mai-report lang! NUPL: Gov’t drug war review meant to cover up Duterte’s liability

The review conducted by the government on anti-illegal drugs operations that resulted to deaths is just “smokescreen” meant as cover for the liability of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia said.

Olalia responded to the recent report of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra made before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and admitted that the review conducted by the inter-agency panel found irregularities in many of the drug operations conducted by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

“It appears that the Inter-agency Report which was partly disclosed by the Philippine Justice Secretary in his address to the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, unwittingly or hopefully not wittingly, diverts the primary and sole blame on lowly police operatives while insulating and saving the principal enablers of the extrajudicial killings: President Duterte himself and top government officials who goaded, tolerated, condoned, sanctioned and justified the so-called drug war,” said Olalia in a statement.

Though he welcomes the findings, Olalia lamented these “focused on the gun and not so much the gunman or even the mastermind” and are “actually belated realizations by the government panel.”

“While they validated the long-held fact not only of sloppy police work but as part of a cover-up for the discredited and formulaic narratives of ‘nanlaban’ (fought back), these refer only to protocols or procedures after the fact of killing,” he said.

“They dodge the fundamental and more crucial question: why did these extrajudicial killings happen in the first place and why are they continuing with impunity?” added Olalia.

Olalia believes “the government Report must be matched with concrete and measurable effective remedies or ‘accountability mechanisms’ for the victims on the ground.”

“The legal and judicial system and domestic remedies or accountability mechanisms the government is trumpeting are indeed functioning, but by and large not for justice – from the perception and perspective of the victims and human rights defenders – but in reality to delay, deny, and deprive full justice to them,” he lamented.

Tutugma ba sa DOJ? PNP to release evaluation of drug war review

The Philippine National Police (PNP) will come out next month its evaluation of the review conducted on a number of its illegal drugs operations which resulted to deaths, Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said on Friday, Feb. 26.

The review was conducted by the DOJ-led inter-agency panel which looked into 328 illegal drugs operations.

“We gave a copy of the report, which contains our recommendation to look into possible administrative and criminal liability on the part of those involved in anti-illegal drug operations where deaths occurred to the PNP,” Sugay said.

“I understand that they are currently evaluating our findings and recommendations and will come out with their report in the first week of March,” he revealed.

During his report before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra admitted irregularities were found in these drug operations.

“Our initial and preliminary findings confirm that in many of these cases, law enforcement agents asserted that the subject that the subject of anti-drug operations resisted arrest or attempted to draw a weapon and fight back,” he informed the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) during his video report on Wednesday, Feb. 24.

“Yet, no full examination of the weapon recovered was conducted. No verification of its ownership was undertaken. No request for ballistic examination or paraffin test was pursued until its completion,” he lamented.

Guevarra added “in more than half of the records reviewed, the law enforcement agents involved failed to follow standard protocols pertaining to coordination with other agencies and the processing of the crime scene.



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