A man found dead on a beach near Calais was “almost certainly” a migrant who drowned trying to reach the UK by crossing the English Channel in a small boat, French officials have said.
The man, whose body was found on a beach near Sangatte, outside Calais, at around 8am on Sunday, was wearing a life jacket, a local prosecutor said.
An initial examination of the body found no evidence of third party involvement, nor did it appear he had been in the water long, Pascal Marconville, prosecutor of the nearby town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, told local media.
It was likely the victim had drowned trying to make the crossing this weekend and that his body had washed up on the shore just a few hours later, Mr Marconville said.
Officers investigating the incident would work with the migrant communities based in Calais and Dunkirk to try to find out who he was and how he died, the prosecutor added.
Local news site La Voix du Nord reported that several other vessels, including one containing 17 people, had been intercepted on Sunday morning and made to return to Calais.
The group included a mother and three children suffering from hypothermia, La Voix du Nord said, adding that another 30 migrants were brought back to Boulogne on Sunday on a “hectic” day for rescuers.
According to Home Office figures, 170 migrants crossed the Channel in just 12 small boats on Saturday, while a further 222 were prevented from crossing by the French authorities.
The Home Office’s clandestine Channel threat commander, Dan O’Mahoney, said that the French had stopped 188 people making the crossing on Sunday.
The Home Office has yet to comment on the death in France or the number of people who managed to cross successfully despite the journey being extremely dangerous.
The co-founder of refugee charity Care4Calais, Clare Moseley, said: “Refugees take this risk because they are frightened, fleeing appalling horrors in some of the most dangerous places on earth.
“They do it because of the grim and unsanitary conditions in Calais, where they are constantly harassed and abused by the authorities.”
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September: Migrants arrive on Dover beach
On Saturday, UK authorities warned that favourable conditions in the Channel were likely to encourage migrants to try before winter weather makes it impossible.
Two women may have undergone non-consensual surgery whilst held in a US immigration detention centre, the Mexican foreign ministry has claimed.
One of the women held in the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia reportedly underwent gynaecological surgery without giving consent and for which she did not receive post-operative care.
The ministry also said that it had identified a second woman who underwent surgery “without her full consent” – or without the procedure or her condition having been explained to her in Spanish.
The contractor that runs the facility says it strongly denies the allegations and any suggestion of misconduct, having been at the centre of controversy since September.
Concerns emerged when nurse Dawn Wooten filed a whistleblower complaint, in which she said she had been told by women inside the detention facility that a number had undergone hysterectomies without giving consent or fully understanding the procedure.
A number of advocacy groups have filed a complaint against the centre on behalf of its detainees, in which they allege medical neglect and poor COVID-19 safety precautions.
According to Project South – one of the organisations which filed the complaint – a former detainee at the centre compared it to a concentration camp, saying: “It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”
Project South had written to members of Congress in 2017, calling for an investigation into the facility’s treatment of detainees. In its 2020 complaint, the organisation says “the pattern of lack of medical care and unsanitary conditions at ICDC has only worsened in light of COVID-19”.
In an interview with The Intercept, Ms Wooten said that she estimated more than 20 women detained at the centre had undergone hysterectomies in the last six years.
The Mexican foreign ministry has said the first woman it had identified had not undergone a hysterectomy, but did not provide further details on the second.
Ada Rivera is the medical director of the ICE (US Immigration and Enforcement) Health Service Corps.
She said: “According to ICE data, since 2018, only two individuals at Irwin County Detention Center were referred to certified, credentialed medical professionals at gynecological and obstetrical health care facilities for hysterectomies in compliance with National Commission on Correctional Health Care standards.
“Based on their evaluations, these specialists recommended hysterectomies. These recommendations were reviewed by the facility clinical authority and approved.”
More than 150 members of Congress have signed a letter to the Department for Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, calling for the claims to be investigated.
The letter states: “We are horrified to see reports of mass hysterectomies performed on detained women in the facility, without their full, informed consent and request that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conduct an immediate investigation.”
Aid groups have accused Italian authorities of blocking migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 4 from leaving port and resuming its emergency mission in the Mediterranean.
After an inspection on the safety of the vessel to operate in high seas, Italian authorities placed the ship under an administrative blockade, said the German activist groups Sea-Watch and United4Rescue, as well as Doctors without Borders.
It is currently docked in Palermo in southern Italy.
The move comes as Italy has been struggling in recent months with daily arrivals of hundreds of migrants from North Africa, a task complicated by security measures imposed under the coronavirus crisis.
Inspectors made their decision after finding too many life jackets on board for a ship which has a sewage system that is unsuitable for the potential number of people rescued, said the groups.
“The flimsy justifications show once again that this was not an inspection serving the purpose of ship safety, but a systematic move to prevent civil sea rescue operations in the Central Mediterranean,” said Philipp Hahn, Head of Mission on Sea-Watch 4.
“Even though the responsible authorities have asked us to assist in rescue operations, they are now blocking yet another rescue vessel.”
Sea-Watch said inspectors have turned up nothing in their 11-hour long search of the vessel.
“For 11 hours, the inspectors searched for the needle in a haystack – and once again found absurd reasons to detain us. With this arbitrary blockade the @guardiacostiera is deliberately putting human lives at risk!” the group said in a statement on Twitter.
18 September: Hundreds of migrants move towards new Lesbos camp
Migrant rescue groups have repeatedly clashed with Italian authorities over their operations.
Italy has come under fire in the past for refusing to allow private vessels carrying migrants to dock – former interior minister Matteo Salvini is facing a trial for illegally detaining migrants at sea.
However, Italy has authorised the arrival of charity ships since it signed a deal with France, Germany, and Malta last September.
The deal stipulates participants must voluntarily take in a share of asylum-seekers rescued from overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean.
Over the past five years, at least 19,164 migrants have died in the Mediterranean, the deadliest route for migrants attempting the perilous crossing from North Africa to Italy.
Migrant workers and advocates called for a “just recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic during a digital rally on Saturday based out of Vancouver.
The pandemic has shown how heavily Canada relies on migrant and undocumented workers to perform essential jobs, said Chit Arma, who chairs the Migrant Workers Centre’s board of directors in Vancouver.
“The pandemic has also exposed the extent to which these essential workers do not enjoy essential rights, and the long-standing systemic problems with the temporary foreign work program that puts workers in an extremely precarious position,” she said during the video conference.
The rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre.
The campaign calls on the federal government to create a new permanent residency program for all essential migrant and undocumented workers, and to allow the workers to apply for an open-work permit while waiting for their applications to process.
No one at the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada could immediately be reached for comment.
On July 31, the federal government announced $58.6 million in funding that it said would boost protections for temporary foreign workers and address COVID-19 outbreaks on farms.
Of that, $35 million was earmarked to improve health and safety on farms and in employee living quarters to prevent the spread of COVID-19. About $7.4 million would support the workers, including $6 million for direct outreach delivered through migrant support organizations, the government said.
‘Recognizes precarious status’
The government also said it was working to develop mandatory requirements to improve living conditions in employer-provided accommodations.
In August, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced a temporary measure to provide a pathway to permanent residency for asylum claimants working in health-care during the pandemic.
Under the measure, the front-line workers would be able to apply for permanent residency if they met certain criteria, including having made an asylum claim before March 13 and having been issued a work permit after their claim.
“This approach recognizes those with precarious immigration status who are filling an urgent need and putting their own lives at risk to care for others in Canada,” the government said in a news release.
Natalie Drolet, executive director of the Migrant Workers Centre, said the measure excludes other front-line workers like grocery store clerks, truckers and care workers.
“While this is a positive step, it leaves too many migrant workers and undocumented workers behind who have also been on the front lines in the pandemic,” Drolet said.
Migrants and undocumented workers play key roles as health-care workers, grocery store clerks, cleaners, care workers, truckers and agricultural workers, Arma said.
More than 1,300 migrant workers in Ontario alone have been infected with COVID-19, she said. Three have died, including one undocumented worker, she said.
‘Fear of being removed’
Arma came to Canada in 2005 to work as a caregiver. Her temporary status in Canada gave her stress and anxiety, she said.
“I had papers, I had documents, and yet I had that fear of being removed, a fear of speaking up because I might be deported,” she said.
“I can imagine how undocumented workers are experiencing even worse because of the lack of documents they have.”
Maria Cano arrived to work as a caregiver in 2017 through the temporary foreign worker program. She said the experience showed how disempowering the experience could be, even before the pandemic struck.
Cano worked for four different families and moved to three different cities in her first few years. They expected her to work long hours without compensation, she said.
“When I spoke up, I lost my job,” she said. “That entire process was very stressful and financially draining.”
She finally found a “nice Canadian family” who treated her with respect and sponsored her but said others shouldn’t hope for the same luck — they should be protected with recognized rights instead.
“The COVID-19 pandemic makes it more difficult and stressful for all the undocumented and migrant workers in Canada,” she said.
Beginning Dec. 15, the B.C. government will require employers wishing to hire foreign workers through federal programs to register with the province.
The government said in a news release Saturday that the measures would ensure the workers are paid for the hours they work, have accurate job descriptions and ensure their rights and safety are protected on the job.
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico said on Wednesday said it had formally requested a report from U.S. authorities regarding alleged negligent practices in U.S. immigration detention centers, citing accusations of sexual abuse and unauthorized hysterectomies.
The request come after a complaint by a whistleblower nurse alleging that detainees in a Georgia immigration detention facility had improperly received hysterectomies and other gynecological procedures.
The complaint did not specify the nationality of the affected detainees.
In a separate case, the Mexican ministry said its consulate in El Paso, Texas was in contact with a Mexican woman and her lawyer after an allegation of sexual abuse by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
It did not give more details.
In August, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune reported allegations of a guard sexually abusing detainees including a Mexican woman at an El Paso immigration detention center. ICE at the time said the accusations would be investigated.
The ministry said both consulates were seeking clarity from U.S. authorities and trying to identify any affected Mexicans.
It said Mexico had activated consular protection mechanisms and that consular personnel had increased attention at the detention centers to ensure rights were respected, the ministry said.
“The government of Mexico will promptly follow up through its various diplomatic and legal instruments to fully understand what happened,” the ministry said in a statement.
ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The nurse’s allegations of improper medical procedures on detainees at the Irwin County Detention Center were filed on Monday to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General by advocacy groups Project South and the Government Accountability Project.
Reuters interviewed Wooten but could not independently confirm the claims of improper hysterectomies, or surgery to remove the uterus.
ICE on Monday denied the allegations.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Michael Perry)
Greek riot police fired tear gas at protesting asylum seekers on Lesbos island on Saturday as tensions simmered following the catastrophic fire that ripped through Europe’s largest migrant camp there this week.
Thousands of asylum seekers have been sleeping rough on Lesbos since Wednesday when the Moria camp was destroyed in apparent arson attacks, with families huddling under blankets and sleeping in doorways or by roads.
Clashes occurred on Saturday noon near a new temporary camp built by Greek authorities where hundreds of young men gathered to protest, some throwing stones at riot police who responded with tear gas.
A fire set there earlier in the day near a police blockade had to be extinguished by the fire brigade.
“Freedom!” said one handwritten sign held up by a protester. “We want to leave Moria,” said another.
A man kicks a tear gas canister during minor clashes between riot police and migrants near Mytilene town, on the northeastern island of Lesbos, Greece.
Round-the-clock efforts to find temporary shelter for over 11,000 people made homeless by the destruction of the Moria camp were still inadequate, rights groups said.
“As thousands are now left sleeping rough in the hills around Moria or on the streets, tensions between local residents, asylum seekers, and police are increasing,” Human Rights Watch warned in a statement on Saturday.
The Moria camp, which had been regularly criticised by the UN and rights groups for overcrowding and its dismal sanitary conditions, burned down in successive fires on Tuesday night and Wednesday.
Officials have blamed migrants for the blazes, the first breaking out shortly after 35 people tested positive for coronavirus and were facing isolation measures.
Many of the mostly Afghan asylum seekers have spent months in desperate conditions on the island, hoping in vain to be allowed to cross tightly shut European borders.
Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi on Saturday said the new camp, a few kilometres (miles) from Moria at a location near the sea, would open later on Saturday with capacity for 3,000 people.
“Rapid tests for coronavirus will be conducted at the entrance,” Mr Mitarachi told Skai TV
Alexandros Ragavas, a spokesman for the migration ministry, said vulnerable asylum seekers would be the first to be housed.
“We will give priority to families. It will be tents of six and the camp will be separated by ethnicities. The process of moving people will start today,” he told AFP.
Asylum seekers scuffle to get some water near the new camp at Kara Tepe on Lesbos island, Greece, on 12 September.
Local volunteer groups have faced difficulty in supplying asylum seekers with food and water.
“We are sleeping in the dirt or on the road under the open sky,” a group of migrants from the former camp said on Facebook, noting that some people had even found shelter under the trees of the local Greek cemetery.
Sleeping on the roadside and in parking lots, men, women and children have made use of whatever they can find in nearby fields, pinning tarpaulins on tree branches and reeds in a bid for privacy and protection from the beating sun.
Refugees and migrants cook on makeshift fires near an abandoned factory in the island of Lesbos, Greece, on 11 September.
The local mayor has rejected efforts to build new temporary camps as “unrealistic” and residents have tried to stop the construction of new camps by setting up roadblocks.
Army and fire service helicopters have been used to bypass the barriers.
“Any thought to rebuild this sort of thing should be forgotten,” Mytilene Mayor Stratis Kytelis told Antenna TV on Friday.
“The island’s society cannot take any more… for reasons of health, social cohesion, national security,” Mr Kytelis said.
‘Making the same mistake’
The plight of the stranded families has prompted other European countries to offer to take in hundreds of asylum seekers, particularly unaccompanied youngsters.
But Greece has long complained that, aside from providing funds, its EU partners have done too little to help.
Efforts in the past to create a quota system, which would have seen all European countries agree to take in refugees from Greece, have floundered due to opposition from right-wing governments, in particular in Poland and Hungary.
“Moria is the Europe we need to change. High time for a truly European Migration Policy,” European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas tweeted Thursday after visiting the island.
“The fires highlight the failure of the European Union’s ‘hotspot approach’ on (Greek) islands, which has led to the containment of thousands of people… with the aim of returning them to Turkey, from which they transited,” HRW said.
“Some EU members have voiced agreement to relocate limited numbers of asylum seekers from Lesbos, but the EU response is hardly adequate or united”.
FILE PHOTO: German Finance Minister and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz gives a statement during the second day of the Informal Meeting of EU Ministers for Economics and Financial Affairs in Berlin, Germany September 12, 2020. Odd Andersen/Pool via REUTERS
September 12, 2020
BERLIN (Reuters) – Plans by European countries to take some 400 unaccompanied children from the burned down Moria refugee camp in Greece should mark just the beginning of their efforts, German Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Saturday.
Fires destroyed Greece’s biggest refugee camp on Wednesday, leaving more than 12,000 people without shelter and returning the spotlight to the issue of refugees and migrants coming to the European Union, which has struggled to find a response.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Friday Germany would take in 100 to 150 unaccompanied minor refugees, and that a total of nine EU states and Switzerland had agreed to take in around 400 children from the camp.
“This has to be more,” said Scholz, who is also Germany’s finance minister and the left-leaning Social Democrats’ (SPD) candidate to run for chancellor in elections due next year.
He was speaking after a meeting of EU finance ministers.
(Reporting by Christian Kraemer; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Clelia Oziel)
ATHENS — The thousands of asylum seekers crammed into Europe’s largest refugee camp, on the Greek island of Lesbos, had for years bridled at their squalid conditions and the endless delays in resolving their fates. Then came the coronavirus and its strict containment measures, which compounded their misery.
The combination proved explosive, pushing frustrations over a tipping point this week, when some camp residents burned down the Moria camp during a protest over their quarantine, a desperate act that has challenged Europe’s leaders once again to come up with a lasting solution to the migration crisis.
By Thursday afternoon, a third fire in two days had erupted at Moria, destroying what little was left untouched by arson attacks earlier in the week and stranding nearly 12,000 of its residents in the wild among tombstones in a nearby cemetery and on rural and coastal roads. One refugee in the late stages of pregnancy experienced abdominal pains on Wednesday night while sheltering on a road near the camp, and was rushed to a hospital to give birth.
“Almost if not all of the accommodation in and around the site has been destroyed,” said Theodoros Alexellis, a Lesbos-based official for the United Nations’ refugee agency.
The camp’s destruction has prompted soul-searching among European leaders who have historically been accused of doing little to alleviate suffering in camps like Moria. On Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron of France said that his government was working with Germany to jointly welcome some of the Moria migrants.
“We must show solidarity with Greece and also live up to European values,” Mr. Macron said.
In the short term, Greek government officials and local aid organizations had yet to formalize plans to rehouse most of the camp’s former residents as of Thursday afternoon. Discussions were complicated by groups of Greek islanders who, angered by the presence of migrants on the island, set up roadblocks on Thursday morning to stop the passage of a medical team from Doctors Without Borders and Greek military personnel seeking to reach the burned-out site and its surroundings.
More than 400 unaccompanied children were transferred off the island by Thursday morning to secure accommodation on the Greek mainland. But no other former residents of Moria will be allowed to leave the island, Stelios Petsas, a Greek government spokesman, said in a news briefing on Thursday afternoon.
“They thought that if they burn Moria they would be able to leave the island undetected,” he said. “This is not going to happen.”
Around 1,000 residents will be temporarily housed on a passenger ferry, according to Notis Mitarachi, Greece’s minister of immigration and asylum. Hundreds more will be placed on two naval vessels, one of which has arrived at the island, according to Mr. Petsas.
It was unclear where the remaining 10,000 migrants would be housed in the coming days. But in the long term, Mr. Petsas said all former residents would be held in a new, closed facility.
Amid fears over the possible spread of Covid-19 among thousands of migrants now scattered on roads and fields around Moria, Mr. Petsas said that the whereabouts of most of the 35 Moria residents who had tested positive for the virus remained unknown.
Moria first became synonymous with Europe’s approach to migration in 2015, when it was a brief staging post for a large proportion of the 850,000 mainly Syrian and Afghan refugees who sailed that year from Turkey to Greek islands like Lesbos.
At that time, migrants moved swiftly through Moria and its equivalents on neighboring islands, with the Greek government allowing them to easily cross to the country’s mainland and then onward by land toward northern Europe.
But that laissez-faire approach was reversed in 2016, when the rest of Europe closed its borders to refugees, prompting Greece to stop most new arrivals from leaving the islands, housing them instead in camps.
Built for only 3,000 people, Moria quickly became overcrowded, its population sometimes swelling to more than 20,000. Conditions became notoriously squalid, with residents given limited access to health care and sanitation, and forced to line up for hours in the sun each for food that was sometimes moldy.
As access to asylum became increasingly slow and restricted, aid groups recorded a spike in suicide attempts among residents of Moria, amid what doctors termed a mental health crisis at the camp.
Tensions both within the camp and between refugees and Greek islanders have grown in recent years. They reached a boiling point in recent days when the authorities placed the entire camp under a medical lockdown after at least 35 residents tested positive for the coronavirus. That led to protests by camp residents, some of whom lit fires on Tuesday night, leading to its destruction.
The most recent reported expulsion occurred while Moria was on fire. Sixteen migrants were apparently abandoned at sea on Tuesday after landing that morning on the Greek island of Samos, and were later intercepted early on Wednesday by the Turkish Coast Guard and returned to Turkey.
Photographs, videos and geolocations sent that morning by the migrants to Aegean Boat Report, a Norway-based independent watchdog that documents rights abuses in the Aegean Sea, show that the group arrived on a remote coastline on the north of the island. A member of the Aegean Boat Report then called coast guards on Samos to request help in bringing the group to shelter, phone records confirm.
Photographs sent by the migrants later that afternoon show the arrival of a Hellenic Coast Guard boat. The migrants then next appear in photographs taken by the Turkish Coast Guard, who rescued the group early on Wednesday from a life raft that had been left floating on the maritime border between Greece and Turkey.
“This isn’t an isolated incident,” said Tommy Olsen, the director of the Aegean Boat Report, who alerted the Greek authorities to the migrants’ arrival on Samos. “It’s happening everywhere, all the time. The Greek government says there are no arrivals. But there are loads of arrivals — they’re just sending them back.”
The Greek shipping ministry and the Samos port authority did not answer requests for comment.
Niki Kitsantonis reported from Athens, and Patrick Kingsley from Berlin.
At least 12,500 migrants were without shelter and basic supplies after back-to-back fires laid waste to the refugee camp in Moria, on the Greek island of Lesbos, on the nights of September 8 and 9, into September 10, reports said. Fires broke out at the camp on the night of September 8 to 9 and again on September 9 to 10, displacing thousands of refugees and migrants and destroying supplies including food, reports said. Greek media said the original fire was started by camp residents angered by lockdown measures and isolation orders imposed after 35 people tested positive for COVID-19. Videos filmed by Movement On The Ground, a refugee activist organization, show the second night of fires and migrants sleeping on area roadways. Credit: Movement On The Ground via Storyful
More than 12,000 migrants have been left homeless on the Greek island of Lesbos after fleeing fires that gutted their overcrowded camp, which had been under lockdown.
Authorities fear some asylum seekers in the camp, who have tested positive for COVID-19, could spread the virus.
This story will be regularly updated throughout Thursday.
Thursday’s key moments:
Fire rips through Greek migrant camp under lockdown
Thousands of migrants have been roaming around the Greek island of Lesbos after fleeing devastating fires that burned their homes.
Their camp had been placed under quarantine last week after an asylum seeker tested positive, and now authorities fear about further virus transmissions.
The whereabouts of 35 migrants, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week, were unknown.
A senior Greek official said the Moria camp, which hosts more than 12,000 people, was “probably totally destroyed”.
Deputy Migration Minister George Koumoutsakos said about 3,000 migrants and refugees would be temporarily housed in tents.
As the Government struggles to find alternative shelter for the migrants, some have set up camps in fields.
The cause of the fires was not yet known but authorities are investigating whether they were started deliberately.
Initial reports suggested the fires broke out at different places in the sprawling camp after authorities tried to isolate people who had tested positive for COVID-19.
The fire broke out just after midnight on Tuesday, and by dawn on Wednesday most of the camp was a smouldering mass of burnt containers and tents.
Aid groups have long criticised conditions at the camp, which hosts more than four times its stated capacity.
Indonesia records South-East Asia’s highest health worker death toll
While Indonesia has recorded more deaths from the coronavirus than any other South-East Asian country, it also has seen by far the most fatalities among medical workers in the region.
At least 213 healthcare workers have died, including 107 doctors and 74 nurses, according to the Indonesian Medical Association.
It has lead to concerns about the long-term impact on the nation’s fragile healthcare system.
Indonesia on Tuesday surpassed 200,000 cases, the second-highest tally in South-East Asia after the Philippines.
In all of Asia, Indonesia’s death toll of 8,230 is second only to India, which has had over 73,000 fatalities.
Indonesia also has one of the lowest numbers of doctors per capita in South-East Asia, at just 4.27 per 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organization.
The deaths of so many of its doctors from COVID-19 will impact the country’s healthcare workforce for years to come, said Nurul Nadia, a public health expert from the Centre for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiatives, an organisation that focuses on health.
“Our health system is weak, the number of doctors is not ideal, the number of specialist doctors is very few and many have become victims of COVID-19 now,” Ms Nadia said.
ASEAN virtual summit tackles pandemic fallout
South-East Asia’s top diplomats have held their annual talks by video and discussed the immense crisis wrought by the pandemic and rising tensions in the region.
Wednesday’s meetings focused on combating the pandemic and ways to help member states recover economically.
The contagion has devastated the region’s manufacturing, export, travel and tourism industries and sparked the worst economic recessions in decades across the region of 650 million people.
South-East Asian nations have been impacted by the pandemic differently.
The Philippines has been hit hard and has been grappling with more than 245,000 confirmed infections and 4,000 deaths, while the tiny socialist state of Laos has confirmed only 22 official cases.
The Philippines and Indonesia each have reported more than double the infections reported by China, where the outbreak started late last year.
A senior South-East Asian diplomat said a key project was establishing a response fund to help ASEAN member states buy medical supplies and protective suits.
The diplomat said Thailand has pledged to contribute $US100,000 ($138,012) and ASEAN partners, including China, Japan and South Korea, were expected to announce contributions.
A regional stockpile of medical supplies has also now been approved, while a Japanese-funded team will research the establishing of an ASEAN centre on public health emergencies, according to the diplomat.
India’s case count rises again
India has added another 89,706 coronavirus cases to its tally, the second-highest in the world, while the Government said schools will reopen later this month for senior students.
According to the Health Ministry, India’s total caseload on Wednesday reached 4.37 million.
The ministry also reported 1,115 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 73,890.
India has the second-most reported cases in the world and the third-most reported deaths behind the United States and Brazil.
More than 1 million people have tested positive for the coronavirus in India in less than a fortnight.
Testing has been ramped up to more than 1 million daily, with cumulative testing exceeding 50 million. India’s population is more than 1.35 billion.
India’s famed white marble Taj Mahal in the northern city of Agra will also reopen on September 21 with access restricted to 5,000 tourists daily.
US nears 190,000 COVID-19 deaths, new hotspots in Midwest emerge
Coronavirus deaths in the United States are approaching 190,000, with 454 deaths in the most recent 24-hour reporting period.
The milestone approaches alongside a surge in cases in the US Midwest, with states like Iowa and South Dakota emerging as the new hotspots in the past few weeks.
South Dakota and Iowa currently have some of the highest rates of infection in the nation, with 19 per cent of tests last week in South Dakota coming back positive, and Iowa with a positive test rate of 19 per cent, according to a Reuters analysis.
The surge in Iowa and South Dakota is being linked to universities reopening in Iowa and an annual motorcycle rally last month in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Kansas, Idaho and Missouri are also among the top 10 states for positive test rates.
New coronavirus infections have fallen for seven weeks in a row for the US with a death rate of about 6,100 per week in the last month.
US confirmed cases are highest in the world with now over 6.3 million followed by India with 4.3 million cases and Brazil with 4.1 million.
The US death toll is also the highest in the world.
Coronavirus halts Belgian government talks
A key negotiator trying to cobble together a Belgian coalition Government has tested positive for COVID-19 dampening hopes that one of the country’s longest political impasses could be broken soon.
Dutch-speaking Liberal Egbert Lachaert has the coronavirus, forcing key politicians from six other centre-left and centre-right parties to resort to video conferencing as they try to hammer out a Government programme.
Six party leaders have since tested negative.
Co-negotiator Conner Rousseau saidMr Rousseau said in a Tweet that everyone “is sticking to the quarantine rules while we work at a distance to find solutions for our country”.
He added there would be no formal physical meetings ahead of September 18.
Belgium currently has a minority government led by Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes, which has wide backing from opposition parties as its core program is limited to battling the pandemic.
Attempts to form a majority coalition with full powers have been unsuccessful since the May 2019 elections.
There had been hopes that Mr Lachaert could bring together a coalition of socialists, liberals, greens and Christian Democrats by September 17 but the positive test will make that difficult.
COVID-19 cases had been on the wane for weeks in Belgium before a slight resurgence last week, although at far lower rates that the initial spike in March.