Managing Epidemics: Contemporary Lessons from Asian Countries
By Virginia Jasmin Pasalo
LUZON, the biggest of the three island groups in the Philippines, has been placed under quarantine until 12 April 2020, coinciding with the end of Holy Week, to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. It is the first country to place its capital city Manila (and the rest of Metro Manila) under a lockdown. The response is similar to what was implemented in China, and later on Italy, except that, China did not lock down its capital city and Italy locked down Rome, much later.
South Korea’s response is the opposite, “Involving a highly coordinated government response that has emphasized transparency and relied heavily on public cooperation in place of hardline measures such as lockdowns.”
The South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong English-language newspaper, reported, “After announcing 600 new cases for March 3, the authorities reported 131 new infections a week later. On Friday, officials reported just 110, the lowest daily toll since February 21. The same day, the number of recovered patients, 177, exceeded new infections for the first time.” The result of South Korea’s strategy is increasingly viewed by public health experts as an alternative model for other countries challenged by the continued spread of COVID-19.
Singapore, on the other hand, was ready, with its experience with the SARS outbreak of 2002-03, before the COVID-19 even occurred. In the years since, it has managed to build isolation hospitals created more negative pressure rooms and appropriate legislations were enacted. “Then, on December 31, when the world first became aware of coronavirus in China, Singapore started to get prepared. By the time the World Health Organisation declared a public health emergency at the end of January, it was ready.”
As of 15 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Singapore has had 212 total cases (with zero deaths), and its infection rate is much slower than the rest of the world.
Perhaps because the Philippines only had 14 cases (2 deaths) of SARS, unlike Singapore with 238 cases (33 deaths), the government did not invest as much in its research and infrastructure. Countries most affected by the SARS outbreak were also caught unprepared, even China which had 5,327 cases (349 deaths), the highest casualty recorded per territory.
The foresight of Singapore and the transparency and public cooperation strategy of South Korea is something that we can ponder on. First off, the 14B pesos allocated during the COVID-19 crisis for tourism infrastructure projects to encourage local tourism must be funneled to health research and development, training/upgrading of nurses specializing in epidemics, and infrastructure projects for the Department of Health (DOH). The epidemic will not be the last, and we cannot be traipsing in white sands (under a state of calamity) while our respiratory systems collapse.
Projects with China under the Belt and Road Initiative, formerly known as One Belt One Road (OBOR) must refocus on our survival as a nation, development that can ensure sustainability, self-governance and protection of our natural resources. COVID-19 gives us the realization that under a lockdown, when all countries are grappling with the same dilemma, a development strategy on self-sufficiency and sustainability becomes our most urgent priority.
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