Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte angrily threatened to declare martial law after accusing communist rebels of killing two soldiers who were escorting food and cash deliveries during a coronavirus quarantine.
Duterte and his Cabinet also approved extending a lockdown in metropolitan Manila and several other cities and provinces to May 15, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Friday. A lockdown in the main northern Luzon region was set to expire April 30.
“I’m warning everybody and putting the armed forces and the police on notice that I might declare martial law. There will be no turning back,” Duterte said in a televised speech. “I have two more years. I will try to finish all of you,” he said, referring to the communist rebels.
Duterte renewed his accusations against the New People’s Army guerrillas, who he said have extorted money from big companies and stolen firearms of slain soldiers in an insurgency that has lasted more than half a century. The rebels have denied his accusations and said they are helping villagers cope with the pandemic.
Roque specified areas where the lockdown, which the government calls a “community quarantine,” can be eased to allow the reopening of some essential businesses. Officials have warned of a severe impact on the economy if the lockdown lasts for months and financial aid depletes government coffers.
The Philippines has reported more than 7,100 cases and 477 deaths from the virus. Many believe the actual toll is higher given limited testing.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— HONG KONG STUDENTS TAKE UNIVERSITY EXAMS: More than 52,000 students have begun university entrance exams with social distancing measures in place, after a month delay due to the pandemic. The exams are stretched over a month and students and staff are required to wear surgical masks and sanitize their hands. Students will have their body temperature checked at the exam centers and must sign health declaration forms. Any student with a high temperature will be refused entry. Desks are spaced at least a meter (3 feet) apart. As of Thursday, Hong Kong has reported 1,036 cases with four deaths.
— MASKS FOR VETERANS: South Korea will strap electronic wristbands on people who ignore home quarantine orders in its latest use of tracking technology to control its outbreak. Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said those who refuse will be quarantined in shelters where they will be asked to pay for accommodation. Around 46,300 people are under self quarantine. South Korea also said its mask supply has stabilized and it will send 1 million masks to foreign veterans of the 1950-53 Korean War. It banned mask exports in early March and has rationed the national supply. South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported six more cases but no new deaths, bringing the total to 10,703 with 240 fatalities.
— MYANMAR EXTENDS FLIGHT BAN: Myanmar is extending a suspension of commercial passenger flight arrivals, ban on most large gatherings, and lockdown of virus-hit neighborhoods through May 15. The state-run newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar also said a nighttime curfew in Yangon, the biggest city and commercial capital, could end June 18. The Health Ministry announced seven new cases, bringing the official total to 139, including five deaths.
— INDIA’S CASES SURGE: India recorded 1,680 new virus cases, driven by a surge in the central state of Maharashtra, bringing the total to 22,930. Officials in Mumbai, the state capital, plan to administer anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to some residents of the city’s crowded slums in an attempt to keep them from becoming sick. U.S. President Donald Trump has backed the unproven drug as a treatment for the virus, though it may cause heart rhythm problems. Mumbai health official Dr. Daksha Shah said the timing and details of the program are “under process.”
— CHINA REPORTS NO DEATHS: China reported no new virus deaths for the ninth straight day, and just six new cases. Two of those were brought from overseas, with three domestic cases in Heilongjiang on the Russian border and one in the southern business hub of Guangdong. Hospitals are still treating 915 patients, 57 listed as serious. The country’s official death toll from the pandemic first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year remains at 4,632 among 82,804 total cases.
— MORE CRUISE SHIP CASES: An Italian cruise ship docked in Nagasaki, Japan, now has 91 infected crew after 43 more cases were confirmed, officials said Friday. All 623 crew members on the Costa Atlantica are being tested. The ship has been docked since January for repairs. Officials suspect the sick crew members contracted the virus while in town or when the ship switched crew. The health minister said Japan and Italy will discuss repatriating healthy crew members, as well as the earliest possible departure of two other Italian cruise ships also docked in Nagasaki.
— AUSTRALIA WANTS TO REFORM WHO: Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian government will cooperate with like-minded countries to reform the World Health Organization. U.S. President Donald Trump has directed his administration to freeze WHO funding, claiming it didn’t deliver adequate early reports on the coronavirus. Morrison told reporters: “What happens at the upper echelons of these organizations, and how they operate, I think is in need of change.” He said Australia wants to see “an improved set of arrangements at the WHO.” China has described calls for an investigation into the pandemic’s origin unhelpful.
— SHARP MASKS HUGELY POPULAR: Masks from Japanese electronics maker Sharp Corp. have proved so popular there is going to be a lottery. Sharp said Friday that online orders spiked so much that not a single sale was completed. As a fix, Sharp announced a lottery for 30,000 boxes, each with 50 masks. A person is entitled to one 2,980 yen ($28) box. Applications will be accepted on Monday, with lottery winners announced Tuesday. Some Japanese hospitals have complained about a mask shortage and they are sometimes hard to find in stores.