The Philippine health minister, facing questions over more than $1 billion in COVID-19 spending, denied on Saturday that any money was “stolen”, as his department vowed to account for every peso.
The country is battling one of Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, and the spread of the virulent Delta variant is overwhelming hospitals and healthcare workers, some of which have warned of mass resignations over unpaid allowances.
“You will be assured that no money went into corruption. None was stolen. I am sure of that,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque told DZMM radio on Saturday.
The state auditor has flagged “deficiencies” involving 67.3 billion pesos ($1.33 billion), casting doubts on the regularity of related transactions in the country’s pandemic response.
The health ministry said it will submit its explanation, including required documents, to the state auditor next week, ahead of a Sept. 27 deadline.
The Philippines on Saturday recorded 14,249 new COVID-19 infections, its second-biggest daily increase, and 233 additional deaths. The positivity rate was a record high, with a quarter of the nearly 53,000 people tested confirmed positive.
With more than 1.71 million infections and 29,838 deaths, the Philippines has the second-highest COVID-19 cases and fatalities in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.
The Manila capital region, an urban sprawl of 16 cities that is home to more than 13 million people, remains under a strict lockdown to contain the spread of the Delta variant.
Only around 11% of the country’s 110 million people are fully immunised. Nearly a quarter of the country’s 1,291 hospitals are at the critical risk level – with occupancy rates at or above 85% – government data showed.
Small hospitals near the capital region are getting overwhelmed by surging cases.
A 50-bed public hospital in Binan city south of the capital is trying to treat 100 to 200 patients, most of them in corridors and tents separated by curtains in the parking lot, Dr. Melbril Alonte, its medical director, told DZMM radio
“The sad truth is patients continue to increase and there are no signs of it easing,” Alonte said, adding that the facility’s nurses and doctors are already getting sick from exhaustion.
Dozens of nurses could resign over months of unpaid special risk allowance, Jocelyn Andamo, secretary general of the Filipino Nurses United, told Reuters. Healthcare workers will hold a nationwide protest next week, she said.
($1 = 50.55 Philippine pesos)
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by William Mallard)
All three levels of government, police, organizers granted full standing on inquiry
OTTAWA — The commissioner of the inquiry examining Ottawa’s use of the Emergencies Act to bring an end to the so-called “Freedom Convoy” protest in February has granted standing to the organizers, police and representatives of all three levels of government.
The decision by Paul Rouleau means those granted standing will be given advance notice on information submitted into evidence before the inquiry, and also gives them certain privileges, such as the opportunity to suggest or cross-examine witnesses.
Those granted full standing in the public inquiry include the federal, Alberta and Saskatchewan governments, the cities of Ottawa and Windsor, Ont., the Ottawa Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police and the organizers of the convoy, including Tamara Lich, Tom Marazzo and Chris Barber.
Former Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly will be allowed to produce documents, make submissions on factual, evidentiary and policy-related issues and examine witnesses, and the Manitoba government has been granted permission to provide written submissions.
However, Rouleau denied standing to the Conservative Party of Canada and several participants of the protests, some of whom had their bank accounts frozen under the Act.
Rouleau said it is important that the inquiry remain an independent, non-partisan process, noting there is also the Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on the Declaration of Emergency reviewing the use of the Act’s powers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Ottawa police say they're ready to shut down Canada Day occupation attempts – CBC.ca
Ottawa city officials say they are prepared for a “unique” Canada Day, with plans to keep anti-government protests from turning into another occupation.
The traditional nationally broadcast shows are returning for the first time since 2019, this time from the plaza in front of the Canadian War Museum because of ongoing construction on Parliament Hill.
Ottawa police say they expect more protests and larger crowds than usual during Canada Day celebrations as groups related to the Freedom Convoy continue to plan demonstrations. Some in those groups have indicated they’d like to protest through July and August.
“This is expected to be a unique Canada Day, with larger crowds and a larger event footprint,” interim Ottawa police Chief Steve Bell said during a Monday news conference.
“We’ve developed our plans in the shadow of the unlawful protests and Rolling Thunder event. We’ve been speaking with community members and businesses and we’re very aware of the lingering trauma and concern about what they’re hearing after those events.”
Bell said officers will allow legal protests while shutting down illegal activities, including setting up structures or speakers without a permit and the threat of occupation, like on downtown streets in the winter.
He said police have been following online commentary and trying to talk to people who’ve said they’re coming to protest.
“[We’ve] planned, we’re prepared and we have the resources,” Bell replied when answering a question about whether police were ready to step in again like they did in late April, when attempts to gather near the Rideau Centre mall were shut down by officers.
Provincial police and the RCMP have offered help to shut down occupation attempts as long as there’s a risk, he said.
The Ottawa Police Services Board received an update on plans for Canada Day when it met Monday evening.
Bell spoke about the toll recent months have taken on officers, noting the demand is not “sustainable” and describing police as “fatigued” ahead of the long weekend.
“For this event we’ve actually had to cancel days off, we’ve cancelled discretionary time off, called people back from annual leave,” said the chief. “This is an all hands on deck event, but that has a cost on the health and wellbeing of our members.”
At least 5 days of traffic control
Last week, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told people thinking of coming to the capital “not to be intimidated by individuals who may be coming to Ottawa to cause trouble.”
He said Monday he wants this to be a safe, festive event for children and families and that people who “come to disrupt” will be dealt with, without a warning.
Bell told the police board that the force has been clear with its expectations for demonstrators, and that harassment won’t be tolerated.
“If there is a hate or bias crime incidents, if there’s intimidation or threats, we will actively investigate those,” he said, adding police know residents have “scars” from the occupation.
“I want to reassure you that those feelings, that trauma that our community has felt is front and centre in all of our planning efforts and will be front and centre in our response efforts.”
Overall, Bell said police are expecting hundreds of thousands of people downtown. For comparison, an estimated 56,000 people went to the shows on Parliament Hill in 2019 and that doesn’t count everyone celebrating nearby.
There will be the traditional Canada Day road closures Friday July 1 and early Saturday, though there are more closures near LeBreton Flats because of that change in show location.
But Ottawa police are establishing another “vehicle exclusion zone” — similar to what was set up in late April for the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally — with no street parking at all and no protest vehicles allowed in from 8 a.m. this Wednesday until at least 6 a.m. on Monday, July 4.
Those plans may change if needed, officials said Monday. People are asked to plan ahead, expect delays and check city pages and local media for updates.
Canada's COVID-19 response better than many comparable countries, study finds – CBC News
Canada handled the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and weathered the ensuing upheaval better than several other nations with comparable health-care and economic infrastructure, a new study suggests.
The research, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on Monday, credits Canada’s strong performance to restrictive and persistent public health measures as well as a successful vaccination campaign.
A team of Ontario researchers compared data from February 2020 to February 2022 in 11 countries dubbed the G10 due to the late inclusion of one subject. They analyzed data from Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States — all countries with similar political, economic, and health-care systems.
“If you look at Canada compared to the G10, the differences are enormous,” study co-author Dr. Fahad Razak said in a recent interview.
“If you look at our vaccination rate, we had the highest in the entire G10, we had the lowest number of people infected and lowest of people dying.”
The research suggests Canada’s cumulative per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases was 82,700 per million, while all countries — with the exception of Japan — were above 100,000 per million. Canada’s rate of COVID-19—related deaths was 919 per million, once again second-lowest behind Japan. All other countries were over 1,000 per million.
Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa who was not involved in the study, said the methodology of the research is sound, even if it can be challenging to compare infections and deaths across jurisdictions.
“Bottom line: Canada’s relatively strict approach resulted in fewer infections and deaths,” Deonandan said in an email.
WATCH | Expert explains how Canada fared comparably well in the pandemic:
‘Persistent level’ of restrictions
Razak said at least 70,000 more Canadians would have died during the first two years of the pandemic if Canada had the same death rates as the United States, the country with the highest cumulative number of COVID-19-related deaths.
“That means most of us would probably personally know a grandparent, or a friend or family member … who’s living today in Canada who would have died if we had the same trajectory as the United States,” Razak said.
He said Canada’s comparatively positive outcomes came about despite gaining access to vaccination later than most countries, noting there were also other health-care system structural disadvantages to overcome across the country at the outset of the pandemic.
“Some hospitals were so overwhelmed that we had to ambulance or airlift patients to other hospitals,” he said.
But Canada, he said, differed from other developed countries when it opted to implement public health measures that were both strict and persistent. Though such measures drew vehement opposition in some circles, Razak said they helped mitigate the pandemic’s overall impact.
“Compared to many other countries … they would have periods with tight restrictions but quickly pull back,” he said. “For Canada, it was really this high and persistent level almost entirely for the first two years.”
Highest proportion with two doses
Razak said the success of Canada’s immunization drive emerged as the strongest takeaway from the research, praising officials for engaging with the population and ensuring vaccines were readily available across the country.
More than 80 per cent of eligible Canadians have been fully vaccinated with two doses as of June. The percentage of the vaccinated populations in other G10 countries is between 64 and 77 per cent, according to the study.
“There was a magic in Canada around these vaccine roll-outs during dose one and dose two,” Razak said.
“When we speak to our colleagues across the world, Canada was the envy of the world in terms of our population rallying around this. It is a lesson to the world, that very high engagement can occur with the right strategy.”
Dr. Eleanor Fish, an immunology professor at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the study, said the findings were consistent with her own assessment of the pandemic in Canada.
Like Razak, she said the population’s high vaccination rate played a major role in the country’s strong performance.
WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam on timing of boosters:
Fish also cautioned that there could be challenges ahead this fall, when COVID and other respiratory illnesses are likely to put a strain on the health-care system.
“We should be planning for that now,” said Fish.
The study also showed the countries’ response to the pandemic left an economic burden, with government debt rising for all countries and Canada registering one of the highest relative increases.
“We had these very significant economic impacts, we had very tight restrictions on our individual freedom which led to things like isolation … but we also had really among the best results in terms of controlling the impact of the virus,” Razak said.
“Was it worth it? That’s not a scientific question. That’s a values and morals and policies question.”
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