Four experts from the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Singapore were brought together for an in-depth discussion on the topic of making the dream of living with COVID-19 a reality on Jan. 19 through Zoom.
The panel, which discussed “Recalibrating Inclusive Health and Economic Recovery in Southeast Asia: From Zero-COVID-19 to Living with COVID-19,” was composed of Dr. Manuel Dayrit, former secretary of the Department of Health and professor at Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health; Dr. Eko Prasojo, professor at Faculty of Administrative Services of Universitas Indonesia; Dr. Kai Hong Phua, adjunct senior research fellow at Institute of Policy Studies – Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore; and Dr. Chien-jen Chen, former vice president of Taiwan and academician at Academia Sinica.
The online roundtable discussion was organized by the Ateneo School of Government, through the Ateneo Policy Center, in partnership with the Eastern Regional Organization for Public Administration with the aim of discussing some of the most common questions and concerns regarding the shift towards living with the virus.
The panelists discussed some problems that caused distrust among the public during the start of the pandemic. Dr. Dayrit pointed to allegations of corruption and issues like the Dengvaxia controversy as stumbling blocks that sowed distrust in the minds of many Filipinos. In the case of Indonesia, Dr. Eko said that a significant portion of their population would much rather listen to informal leaders such as religious leaders or village leaders regarding the pandemic. As such, he said there’s immense value in tapping these leaders to educate the public.
To address this, Dr. Phua underscored the value of having expertise. He explained that having a group of experts that have come to a consensus regarding the data that they are dealing with would help national leaders have a better grasp of the information that they would then share to the public. He said this would minimize confusion and foster greater trust in government communication moving forward.
“It is very important to provide accurate information immediately through mass media, especially through electronic channels,” Dr. Chen said.
Dr. Chen also said that eradicating vaccine nationalism is integral in protecting more people around the world against the virus because doing so will allow us to live with the virus without fear of it causing massive disruption in our economies and societies.
“No one is safe, unless everyone is safe and no country is safe, unless every country is safe,” Dr. Chen said. “We have to help each other. This is the only way. We need global solidarity for global health.”
Meanwhile, with the sudden spike of cases triggered by the Omicron variant, Dr. Phua said that a common-sense approach to managing cases would be by investing in a primary healthcare system that will be able to deal with patients in a more efficient manner.
“If you take the approach of a cost-effective and sustainable system, I think the emphasis should be on the primary healthcare system, that’s able to monitor and detect symptoms early enough then refer them for better management at the more acute stages,” Dr. Phua said.
Another important thing Dr. Dayrit pointed out is that the Philippines needs to invest in building its capacity to produce vaccines as it will be key in addressing the needs of the people. “We need to have some form of vaccine production capacity. Even if we can’t do the research, we need to have the capacity to be able to copy and produce. If we can do that, we will have some security when it comes to vaccine supplies,” he said.
On the question of how to strike a balance between economic recovery and mitigating the health crisis, Dr. Prasojo said that it’s important to continue the vaccine programs to ensure that we manage the spread of the disease, but with that governments should really zero in on propping up micro, small and medium enterprises as they are crucial in strengthening the economy.
“The more prepared we are to prevent transmission and to prevent deaths, the better the balance will be so that we don’t lockdown, because in our case that’s the default response. And if you lock down, you stop the economy. The only way that we’ll be able to do that, preventive-wise, is vaccination and anti-virals, put in the technology to make it more efficient. But if we’re able to do that, you prevent transmission through vaccination and anti-virals, you prevent deaths because your doctors are better prepared and your hospitals are buttressed, your economy can open. The balance is enabled by your pandemic preparedness,” Dr. Dayrit said.