The mistake that caused the Philippines to sink deep into Covid-19

Experts believe that the Philippines has been slow in the response to the pandemic and has encountered many difficulties in implementing vaccination.

When the Philippines recorded its first Covid-19 death on February 1 of last year, President Rodrigo Duterte assured: “Everything is fine, without fear of Covid-19”.

At that time, the 44-year-old patient, from Wuhan, was also the first to die of Covid-19 outside of China. Many countries around the world, including Russia, Japan and Australia, blocked or closed their borders for people from China. But Mr. Duterte scoffed at those calling him to do the same.

“China is good to us. We just want to show respect to them,” he said.

This decision went against the advice of many health experts, ultimately creating a “stigma” in the Philippine epidemic response. A year later, with a population of 108 million, the country still struggles with rising infection rates and economic devastation, with the world’s longest-blocked area being Metro Manila.

While other Asian countries like Singapore and Indonesia have already kicked off their vaccination campaigns, the Philippines is still struggling to get the vaccine. Senators are constantly questioning why the government cannot make it clear when immunizations will begin. During the meeting on 12/2, Mr. Duterte expressed confusion with this question.

In an interview with the media on Feb. 17, former Economy Minister Ernesto Pernia, who resigned last April, expressed frustration that the government had been delayed in addressing the pandemic.

“We should have had to deal with it earlier from February like Vietnam. But we started in March. I think people are upset because we’re late on this. Progress is really slow. and slowly, “he said.

Medical staff at Metro Manila rehearsal to handle people with anaphylaxis after vaccination Covid-19, on February 18. Image: SCMP

Dr Anthony Leachon, a former senior adviser to Duterte’s Covid-19 task force, said the government had spent too much time implementing a travel ban, setting up testing and quarantine facilities. The country also does not have enough test kits, many patients die before being confirmed with Covid-19 or not. According to Mr. Leachon, the exposure tracking process is also limited.

He explained that the goal of all countries in the world to stop the epidemic is to “flatten the curve” – ​​to slow down the rate of infection to prevent an overloaded health system.

“To do that, you need to set up inspection, traceability, quarantine and quarantine facilities. The Philippines took months to implement them and only really started in August last year,” he said.

The country is also lagging behind in vaccinations, and has done little to stop the nCoV variant. With the number of positive cases exceeding 555,000 and more than 11,600 deaths, the government’s efforts to curb the spread of the virus continue to run into error and confusion.

Last year, Duterte created the national Covid-19 task force under the Minister of Health, staffed as former generals, instead of medical specialists. He also appointed a military officer to lead the pandemic response department.

This week, the government suddenly announced it would reopen cinemas to revive the economy. Faced with backlash from mayors, who did not know about the move, the Duterte administration confirmed the opening started on March 1. Economic analyst, MP Joey Salceda warned against restraining orders too soon.

“The most important response to Covid-19 today is vaccination, especially for health-care workers. This is the highest priority of the country,” he said. “Even if our business sites are active again, if we do not vaccinate medical staff, we will have to impose restrictions again when the health care facility is overloaded, the physician becomes ill.”

When asked to comment on the government’s handling of the pandemic, former Health Secretary, Dr. Esperanza Cabral, said “it should have been much better”.

“Although I appreciate their hard work, I don’t think they’ve been successful,” she said. “They said they did the best they could and I have no doubts about it. All they need to do is look at the results compared to other countries.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.  Photo: AP

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Image: AP

The Philippines ranked 79th out of 98 countries in Australia’s Lowy Institute’s “Covid Response Index” last month, reaching just 30.9 out of 100, based on cases, deaths and tests. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the ASEAN Research Center at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore found that out of all respondents in Southeast Asia, Filipino citizens disagreed with the decision. put down the most government translation. Research shows that 5.9% of the people of this country believe that politicians and civil servants abide by public health measures.

Last year, Mr. Duterte criticized dissenting people and advised Filipinos to soak masks in diesel or gasoline. He also promised to bring vaccines to the community in December last year. Now the country faces “the largest and most complex immunization program in history,” said Dr. Anthony Leachon.

“We have to vaccinate at least 75 million people,” he said. Fortunately, we have a safe and effective vaccine.

But challenges have begun to appear. Shipments of several thousand doses of Chinese vaccine have been delayed. The Government still has to mobilize and propagate people to participate in vaccination. A recent study by local Metro Manila government shows that only 3 out of 10 citizens are willing to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

Thuc Linh (Follow SCMP)


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