MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday his government will pay the 931 million pesos ($19.25 million) it owes the Red Cross after the humanitarian agency stopped conducting COVID-19 tests.
The Philippine Red Cross (PRC), which has conducted 1.1 million swab tests and accounts for quarter of the country’s output, on Friday stopped providing testing services until it gets paid, prompting the country’s limited number of laboratories to fill the gap.
“The president has given his commitment that the government will pay its obligation to the PRC,” Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said in a statement. The government is calling on the PRC to resume its testing services, Roque added.
Returning overseas Filipino workers, frontline healthcare workers and individuals in large swabbing facilities benefit from free COVID-19 swab tests by the PRC. Testing cost is charged to Philippine Health Insurance Corp (Philhealth), the state health insurer.
But PRC said Philhealth had 931 million pesos in overdue obligations as of Oct. 13, hampering its ability to replenish test kits and pay for laboratory workers.
Returning Filipino workers need to test negative from COVID-19 before being allowed to leave quarantine hotels. The presidential office asked for patience and understanding of stranded overseas Filipino workers as it resolves the issue.
PRC said it would still conduct swab tests for paying clients.
With 365,799 confirmed infections and 6,915 deaths, the Philippines has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in Southeast Asia behind Indonesia.
($1 = 48.36 Philippine pesos)
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
Council Secretary-General Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, the top civil servant who huddles with EU leaders during their highest-level summit meetings, has tested positive for coronavirus after a routine test conducted Tuesday, officials said.
Tranholm-Mikkelsen, a veteran Danish diplomat, has no symptoms of COVID-19, officials said, but will isolate, in accordance with medical guidelines.
Like other essential workers, and because of his routine proximity to leaders, Tranholm-Mikkelsen is tested on a regular basis. His most recent test prior to Tuesday, on October 14, was negative.
Officials said that Tranholm-Mikkelsen, 57, has adhered carefully to the Council’s strict health protocols, including social distancing in all meetings. While he was in meetings with Council President Charles Michel, the officials said all sanitary rules were followed and Michel was not considered at risk of infection because the two were not in close contact. Michel also tested negative on Thursday, officials said.
As infections have surged across Europe, a growing number of senior political figures have tested positive. Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès, 45, is being treated in intensive care after testing positive last week. German Health Minister Jens Spahn, 40, also tested positive this week.
Michael Hooper has always been ahead of the game in some way or another.
At just 19 years old and a fresh graduate from St. Pius X College in Chatswood, Hooper was thrown his Super Rugby debut for the ACT Brumbies.
Six years on, he’d become the youngest player to record 100 appearances having already skippered the Waratahs to their maiden title in 2014 in place of the injured Dave Dennis.
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By then he had already written his name into Australian rugby folklore.
In 2014, Hooper (22 years and 268 days) was unveiled as Wallabies captain – the youngest since the great Ken Catchpole in 1961.
Now, eight years after running out for his first-ever Test in the green and gold, Hooper will become the youngest of 12 Australians ever to reach the century.
He would’ve been the fastest in the world to make the milestone had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic – but few people were ahead of the game on that one.
Hooper’s Test debut came in the final 15 minutes of what was a forgettable night in Newcastle, with the rain-soaked pitch dampening an already painful night against Scotland.
It’s been far from an easy path since for the now 28-year old, who has led Australia to just 19 wins from 46 Tests as skipper.
That 44.56 per cent winning strike rate is the lowest of any Wallabies captain since David Codey in 1997, who lost his sole game as skipper.
There have been questions raised over his place in the team as well as his capability to be the leader Australian rugby needs on the field.
Then there’s been the disruption off it – the Israel Folau saga and four different coaches who have each come in with their own vision of what the Wallabies will look like under their watch.
All four of them – Robbie Deans, Ewen McKenzie, Michael Cheika and now Dave Rennie – have backed Hooper to be a part of that vision and the latter three made him captain.
They’ve all seen something in him.
“Michael loves Australia and his record as a player speaks for itself but he’s exactly the type of man we want see in rugby,’ Cheika said of Hooper when he was confirmed the new Wallabies skipper in 2017.
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But what is that ‘something’ they see in him, the ‘type of man’ that Cheika spoke of.
It’s the same consistency and workhorse mentality that has defined Hooper’s reputation for so long.
While some may see the need for a new direction, Hooper is Rennie’s one constant as he pilots the Wallabies through a turbulent period and into a new era.
That same determination and single-mindedness has stayed with Hooper since his teeenage years and made him destined for the green and gold from a young age.
That is at least according to Matthew Stearn, who was Hooper’s coach during his senior years at St. Pius.
“Even back in 2008, I was interviewed in my first year at Pius by one of the reporters from the North Shore Times and back then I said to them if he wasn’t a Wallaby I didn’t know what was,” he told foxsports.com.au.
“That was back in 2008. He always looked like he was a Wallaby.
“Even as a 17-year old – the physicality he brought to the game was another level and his reading of the game was another level.
“I remember a point with Mick when he said to me: ‘How do you want me to play the game, what do you want me to do?’
“And I basically said to him: ‘Do what you’re doing because what you’re doing you can’t put a price on’.
“His natural ability in the game was next-level.”
Hooper’s scramble and try-saving tackles in defence aren’t a fluke – they’re a combination of incredible speed, an intense recovery level and an engine that has been with him since his school days.
“He had this ability to be in the right place at the right time,” Stearn said.
“He had an engine that was just unstoppable. I watch him play now and still in a Wallabies jersey I can see him running around in a Pius jersey.
“He still plays with the same enthusiasm of a schoolboy.”
Uncapped Queensland Reds trio Harry Wilson, Filipo Daugunu and Hunter Paisami are set to be unleashed in the starting side against the All Blacks on Sunday while Brumbies playmaker Noah Lolesio will come off the bench.
It comes after Rennie named a 44-man squad featuring 16 uncapped players and plenty more lacking international experience.
When Hooper was first handed the captaincy, he was the second-youngest player in the Test squad.
Now, with what is about to be 100 Tests under his belt, the Reds trio will be looking at him as skipper to lead the way.
When it came to team huddles, Hooper had always been sharp and to the point in his school days according to Stearn – his tireless work ethic was more than enough of an example to follow.
But even when he wasn’t on the field, Hooper didn’t just step away.
He understood his role, “he was the leader that the boys listened to” as Stearn explained.
“Mick got injured just before the first ISA game in year 12 and went on rehab from there.
“I took him to Queensland on the Rugby Tour and he coached the side.
“He coached the team. I was the coach but he coached them.
“They just listened to him. You notice it when he talks, you see him in the huddles. When he talks people listen. He had that same quality as a school kid and that’s pretty rare.
“His first XV, there were some loose heads in that team but they listened to Mick and they knew his value. His value as a leader was as much about how he played the game and what he put into it as what he had to say about it.”
His record at Pius speaks for itself.
From 2004-2007, he captained the school’s top sides to 36 wins, three draws and four losses.
He had 42 tries to his name from just 43 games and was named ‘best and fairest’ each year.
Even before that when he joined Pius in 2002, Hooper’s name was already being tossed around according to his junior school coach Sean Brannan.
“He was known,” Brannan said, explaining it had a lot to do with his father David, who played for Blackheath and Manly.
“His reputation had preceded him. He was already known in district circles and Manly rep teams.”
Mark Pawlak, Hooper’s coach from years seven to 10 added: “He was the only player I have coached where every opposing coach had knowledge of him,.”
When it comes to constructive feedback, Hooper’s father David is one of the only ones he knows he can genuinely listen to.
“Dave Hooper was obviously very knowledgeable in terms of rugby anyway and he was one of those parents who never interfered with the coaching process,” Stearn said.
“But he would have given Mick more feedback than anyone when he was growing up. Logical statistics to prove to Mick what he was doing right and what he could improve.”
Brannan had already been introduced to Michael’s brother Richard but was soon warned that this next Hooper coming through was even better.
He was so good that Brannan would have to apologise to opposition coaches during games.
“It was just his determination, speed, strength and single-mindedness,” he said.
Brannan described Hooper as the “natural leader that held that team together” as he captained the 11As to an undefeated season.
Like fellow classmate and future Wallaby, Luke Jones, both Brannan and Stearn knew Hooper was destined for greatness on the rugby field.
They didn’t need to remind him either.
That’s not to say Hooper lacked humility – he was as unassuming as they come, quick to deflect attention onto his teammates.
“He was unfazed, unfussed and concentrated on what was important and let his rugby speak for himself on the field,” Brannan said.
“He didn’t go around telling you how good he was, he just showed you how good he was.”
Rather, it was the single-mindedness that Brannan spoke about that had Hooper always looking at his life beyond the halls of Pius.
“Comparing him to players around him… he always had a mature focus,” Brannan said.
“He knew what to prioritise and how to get the most out of himself. He also looked at the big picture.
“I could point to the fact he didn’t make the Australian Schoolboys in year 11.
“He didn’t lose his bundle and came back the next year and I think he injured his shoulder and the doctor said you can put off this operation and get the treatment you need and go away and try make the Australian schoolboys.
“His attitude was ‘No, I need the operation. Australian schoolboys isn’t important. I want to be a Wallaby’.
“He always had the big picture. That maturity and single-minded determination were what struck you about him.”
Hooper still remained grounded though.
Since he was 16, he’s always received a message from the same person before every match he’s played.
“I know his mum was always a big supporter of his,” Brannan said.
“Even when he made rep teams, Super teams and Australian teams, she’d send him a bit of inspiration prior to big games.
“A text message or recording to help him concentrate. When he made the Wallabies she stopped doing it and he said: ‘Mum, why’d you stop doing it?’
‘She said: ‘You’ve made the Wallabies now I can’t help you as much.’
“But he was always of the opinion: ‘That’s what got me there I don’t want to think I’m any better than I was before’.
“He wasn’t above anyone or thinking he was better than anyone. He was always happy for anyone to support him any way they could. He didn’t forget people who helped him along the way.”
When Hooper takes to the field for his 100th Test on Sunday, he leads out a Wallabies side heading into a fascinating new era under Rennie.
But as the new coach said when he stood by his 99-Test Wallaby: “We’re planning on going in a new direction, but it doesn’t mean you need to change the furniture totally.”
Hooper has always been a key part of that furniture – a mainstay as the spotlight has been increasingly pointed directly at his leadership in an underperforming Wallabies outfit.
As a then 20-year old ran out for his first Test in the torrential Newcastle rain, he would have never known the path he would have to take to reach the point he is at now.
“There wouldn’t be many blokes who’d have to deal with the coach leaving, your Izzy Folau affair and a team that wants to perform better and is struggling to find his identity,” Stearn said.
“Now he’s changed coaches.”
Through all of that, as Stearn continued, “Mick’s the choice.”
“He’s gone through three coaches now and he’s still captain. That speaks volumes for Michael really.
“I do hold him in hugely high regard. I find what he’s done has pretty special really through a tough time for Australian rugby.”
The principal said he believed there had been a misunderstanding that led to the family sending their child to school.
“We’re not trying to find a fault in this one,” he said. “The best thing is to see what we can do from now on.”
Mr Ozyurek said he received a call from the Health Department on Tuesday inquiring about the student’s attendance at the school, when he was told the boy was meant to still be in isolation.
The principal said he was not advised to close the school at that stage, but did so anyway out of precaution.
“I made the executive decision to close the school,” the said. “We can’t take any chances.”
The school was officially ordered to close on Wednesday when the boy tested positive.
“We gave them [DHHS] all the contact numbers [of close contacts],” Mr Ozyurek said.
“I’m hoping and praying that the classroom teacher has not picked up anything.”
East Preston Islamic College is a not-for-profit school with about 600 students from kindergarten to year 12.
Primary-aged students at the school had only returned to face-to-face learning last week.
Of the three new COVID-19 cases reported on Wednesday, two were linked to the “northern metro region community outbreak:, which now has 23 cases in total, with 14 active.
The third new case was a household contact of a known case.
Members of the public in the Preston and Heidelberg areas received text messages on Wednesday advising anyone with symptoms to get tested immediately.
Comment has been sought from the Health Department.
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Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.
A school in Melbourne’s north will be closed for the rest of the week due to a year 5 student testing positive for COVID-19.
East Preston Islamic College’s principal, Ekrem Ozyurek, said the boy stayed home from school last week, because his siblings had tested positive for coronavirus in recent weeks.
The boy came back to school this week and attended on Monday and Tuesday, after his mother brought a letter from Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) dated October 17 clearing the other children of having coronavirus.
But on Tuesday DHHS called the school and said the boy was supposed to still be self-isolating as he waited for a day-11 test.
Mr Ozyurek closed the school as a precaution, and on Wednesday morning DHHS informed the school the boy had tested positive for COVID-19.
Mr Ozyurek said there seemed to have been some confusion because the boy’s parents said he had tested negative before this test.
“As school just got back we were thinking, ‘Yes, we’re back finally,’ then this happened,” he said.
“It happened to us today and it can happen to another person. It may not happen for two weeks and it could happen another week later — we don’t know.
“So my view is that we have to put everything aside and find out a way of working together.
“We aren’t blaming anybody.”
Mr Ozyurek said the school had provided DHHS with a list of the boy’s classmates and teachers for contact tracing.
The principal said the next step was waiting for DHHS’s recommendations on when it would be safe to reopen the school.
“If everything is OK we’ll be back to normal on Monday,” he said.
Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria has become the latest cyclist to withdraw from the Giro d’Italia after testing positive for the coronavirus as the race heads toward an uncertain conclusion this weekend.
With five stages to go in the Giro d’Italia, organisers are hoping to finish the race safely after another rider tested positive to COVID-19
There are concerns over the rising number of cases in Lombardy, the region of northern Italy where the race will finish on Sunday
Australian rider Ben O’Connor was beaten in a sprint finish, coming second on stage 14 behind Jan Tratnik
A staff member for Team AG2R La Mondiale was the only other positive out of 492 tests carried out on Sunday and Monday to coincide with the race’s second rest day, organisers RCS Sport said.
The race is scheduled to end on Sunday in Milan, the capital of the Lombardy region, which is putting in place a nightly curfew beginning on Thursday because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases in an area already hit hard during the first wave of infections.
Two other stages in the final week of the race are also slated to ride through Lombardy.
Race director Mauro Vegni has said from the start that the race’s greatest achievement would be reaching the finish in Milan.
The three-week event was already rescheduled from its usual slot in May because of the pandemic.
Gaviria’s UAE Team Emirates said the rider “was immediately isolated following the test result and is feeling well and is completely asymptomatic”.
The team noted that Gaviria also had COVID-19 in March.
Gaviria has won five stages at the Giro during his career — four in 2017 and one in 2019, plus two stages at the 2018 Tour de France.
Overall contenders Simon Yates and Steven Kruijswijk had already been withdrawn from the race after testing positive, as had Australian standout Michael Matthews.
Team Emirates said all of its other riders and staff came back negative in the latest round of exams. The team added that its medical staff was “monitoring the situation closely and doing all they can to ensure that we can proceed safely”.
Italy added another 10,874 confirmed coronavirus infections to its official toll on Tuesday.
The Government has implemented new restrictions to curb nightlife and socialising in hopes of slowing the resurging outbreak.
Another 89 people died, bringing Italy’s official COVID-19 death toll to 36,705, the second highest in Europe after Britain.
Portuguese rider João Almeida leads the race by 17 seconds ahead of Dutch rival Wilco Kelderman.
Team Bahrain-McLaren’s Jan Tratnik earned his first stage victory in a Grand Tour by winning the 16th stage, beating Australian rider Ben O’Connor by seven seconds at the end of the hilly 229 kilometre route from Udine to San Daniele del Friuli.
Neither of them had ever won a stage in a Grand Tour and both entered the final stretch together.
However, it was Tratnik who crossed the line first, with his arms outstretched and tears streaming down his face. O’Connor — riding for NTT Pro Cycling — thumped the handlebars in frustration.
EF Pro Cycling said on Sunday they wanted the race to end to avoid “a chaotic withdrawal on a team-by-team basis”.
The UCI refused their demand, saying race organisers have “committed to implementing the measures to secure the race bubble”.
BBC Sport’s Matt Warwick
Giro organisers had breathed a sign of relief last week after the whole peloton and staff retested negative days after three riders and two teams left the race after contracting Covid-19.
While a further two positive tests might not seem too alarming, this is Gavaria’s second positive after he was one of the first riders to get coronavirus back in February – prompting a season shut-down until August.
The Colombian’s form has been poor at a race where he won four stages in 2017. During stage 11, in which Frenchman Araud Demare emulated that feat himself, Gavaria got into position to race and almost immediately sat up on his bike and let his rivals tear away in front of him, displaying an at-the-time perplexing level of lethargy.
The 26-year-old’s UAE-Team Emirates squad – who won the Tour de France in September – must now decide if it’s worth risking staying at the race at all after seeing one of their best athletes test positive for a second time.
After all, they, and all the other World Tour teams, have another Grand Tour to worry about, as the Vuelta a Espana gets under way on Tuesday – so far, say their organisers, under a clean bill of health.
Other areas placed in Tier 2 restrictions from Saturday include Essex and Elmbridge in Surrey. In Lancashire, many hospitality businesses have been forced to close after the area was moved into the strictest Tier 3 restrictions.
It comes amid predictions, reported in The Times, that Britain will be carrying out one million coronavirus test a day by Christmas in a bid control the pandemic.