Why Covid infections in PH keep rising

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We need ground implementers, but politics gets in the way.

The trend of continuing increases in Covid-19 infections in the Philippines over the weeks to nearly 7,000 a day from a few hundred is an indication, beyond any political administration, of one of our weaknesses in practical, integrated ground responses to crises or logistically complex situations. This demonstrates itself again and again in times of calamity and in the disorganization of our infrastructure, business or manufacturing ecosystems, laws and regulations.  This Covid-19 trend has gone on for months when most other countries, except for the mentally and politically challenged ones, already have the infection curve flattened into sporadic localized outbreaks. We are unable to collectively adjust to situations that require ground skills, hard decisions of changes of friends in management and changes from hope-based frameworks to results-and-data-based ones.

The Philippines has improved in treatment protocols by our hospitals and health workers.  It has reasonably delivered in two months on assistance to workers through government disbursements and the Social Amelioration Program or SAP and made more facilities available in beds, ventilators, masks, personal protective equipment and medical supplies.

Private-public partnerships have added quarantine facilities, lab testing capacities from 300 to over 35,000 a day.  We collect aggregate statistics of infections and mortalities in the city, large municipalities and at the country level.

But why are the infections still rising? The data comes weeks late, the infected are not being effectively identified and quarantined.  Some decision-makers in government lack the discipline to study or to manage what’s happening on the ground — the information collected is not barangay (village)-operations level.  For months, it took most local government units (LGUs) days to respond to a reported possible case. Then when tested, the person might not be contact-traced until the results came out more than 10 days later, when they were useless already, and the number of contacts traced was way below the world average — when Filipinos are known to be sociable. The quarantine centers built by private donations and the government were hardly used; there was no capacity planning for processing; and food, processors and supplies were not managed, and so was allocation of health workers and their compensation and protection.  There was no managed barangay-level data on a central basis, when this is the heart of managing the infection source, the most crucial level, not the aggregated levels.  There is no contact center to respond quickly, despite our pride in being the world’s contact center. The LGU personnel on the ground for a long time didn’t have central guidelines on a detailed-operations basis on how to deal with potential reports of infections.

Hopefully, and reportedly, these are now to be addressed, but expect delays.  Meanwhile, there are developments internationally that may help us or create obstacles.

China, having made large donations in equipment and supplies, has also pledged to make the Covid-19 vaccine a public good and priority allocations for the Philippines if the vaccine would be proven viable. Russia offered not only supply of its own vaccine, but also possible production in the Philippines if we want to and are able. Yet these assistance and their investments are downplayed, ignored or criticized by the same media outfits and “nationalist-experts” who turn around and ask where the pledged assistance from these countries are, whereas much smaller assistance from the United States, the United Kingdom, etc. are headlined.  We can outline some details in later articles.

Vietnam has announced it will buy 150 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, some of which will be given as a gift.  While disputing territories with China, Hanoi courted and received nearly $10 billion in investments from China last year.  Japan also has disputes with China and yet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi Jinping are working on improving relations and are cooperating on fighting Covid-19 together.  Thailand has robust relations with Russia, China and the US.  For some reason, even our ambassador to the US and our senators are criticizing some countries in unison with the US, but not questioning the US supporting giving up our Sabah claim in Malaysia’s favor, hiding Covid-19 information and interfering in other countries. We should instead befriend as well as push a bit against all others for Filipinos. The framework for outlooks should be the net benefit versus cost on the whole, over the medium and long term and based on actual history of behaviors and commitments.

We are now also part of clinical trials of vaccines from the US and the UK, and drugs from Japan.  We have to remember though that whereas the European Union, China, Russia, Germany, etc. have declared that any medical breakthrough should be for the world and accessibly priced, the US has bought up almost all of the remdesivir, tried to buy a German vaccine maker for “exclusive US use,” according to German health officials. The US has also stated that American companies have to serve the US and their profits are to be protected.
We should strengthen our economy and the education of our people so we are not easily swayed by our survival needs or propaganda of others, whoever they may be.  The coronavirus  has made the world one big community helping one another, except for the US under Donald Trump trying to divide and taunt the world, from Mexico to China to people of color, Muslims, Palestinians, Europeans, etc., as well as the very institutions of the US.

We should look beyond the short-term pushing by both the US and China by dealing practically and diplomatically with the pressure and take advantage of the economy of China — a neighbor destined to be twice the size of the US in 10 years — and of the US, still the richest and most powerful country for decades to come.  Not to forget Asean, which is the second-fastest growing region in the world right next to us.  The next 20 years can be the most exciting and fastest growth period for the Philippines if we get our act together.

World leaders hope for a vaccine against Covid-19 sooner than later: (clockwise from left) Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson. COLLAGE BY IDSI

We must also make it a goal to spread the benefits to all our people, but the only way to institutionalize that requires that Filipinos do their part by being open and practical,  acquiring skills and knowledge and persevering with more logic than emotionalism and tribalism.

Let us all work together relentlessly toward a more resilient and robust Philippines, more relentlessly than the virus, more steadfastly than the geopolitical and local winds that may blow.

George Siy is a Wharton-educated industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator, serving as director of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan and the United States.

New Worlds by IDSI (Integrated Development Studies Institute) aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities and attempt for common good, culture and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks.

**Also published in:  http://www.idsicenter.com/new-worlds/2019-novel-coronavirus-facts-and-hysteria/

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