Going from zero COVID to living with COVID
Four experts from the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and Singapore were brought together for an in-depth discussion on the topic of realizing the dream of living with COVID-19 on January 19 via Zoom.
The panel, which discussed “Recalibrating Inclusive Health and Economic Recovery in Southeast Asia: From Zero-COVID-19 to Life with COVID-19”, was comprised of Dr. Manuel Dayrit, former Secretary from the Department of Health and professor at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health; Dr. Eko Prasojo, professor at the Faculty of Administrative Services, Universitas Indonesia; Dr. Kai Hong Phua, Associate Senior Researcher at the 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 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 the most common questions and concerns about transitioning to living with the virus. .
The panelists discussed some issues that caused public distrust at the start of the pandemic. Dr. Dayrit pointed to corruption allegations and issues such as the Dengvaxia controversy as stumbling blocks that have sown distrust in the minds of many Filipinos. In the case of Indonesia, Dr Eko said a significant portion of its population would much rather listen to informal leaders such as religious leaders or village chiefs regarding the pandemic. As such, he said it was extremely helpful to call upon these leaders to educate the public.
To solve this problem, Dr. Phua emphasized the value of expertise. He explained that having a group of experts come to a consensus about the data they deal with would help national leaders better understand the information they would then share with the public. He said this would minimize confusion and foster greater confidence in government communication in the future.
“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 to protecting more people around the world from the virus, as it will allow us to live with the virus without fear that it will cause massive disruptions in our economies and societies.
“No one is safe unless everyone is safe and no country is safe unless all countries are safe,” Dr Chen said. “We have to help each other. It is the only way. We need global solidarity for global health.
Meanwhile, with the sudden spike in cases triggered by the Omicron variant, Dr Phua said a sensible approach to case management would be to invest in a primary healthcare system that will be able to treat patients more efficiently.
“If you’re taking a cost-effective and sustainable system approach, I think the focus should be on the primary health care system, which is able to monitor and detect symptoms early enough and then refer them. towards better management at the most acute stages,” Dr. Phua said.
Another important thing Dr. Dayrit stressed is that the Philippines needs to invest in building its capacity to produce vaccines, as this will be essential to meet the needs of the people. “We need some form of vaccine production capacity. Even if we cannot do research, we must have the ability to copy and produce. If we can do that, we will have some security when it comes to vaccine supply,” he said.
On the question of how to find a balance between economic recovery and the alleviation of the health crisis, Dr Prasojo said that it was important to continue vaccination programs to ensure that we manage the spread of the disease, but with this, governments should really focus on supporting micro, small and medium enterprises as they are essential in strengthening the economy.
“The more prepared we are to prevent transmission and prevent deaths, the better the balance for us not to lock ourselves in, because in our case, that is the default response. And if you lock down, you shut down the economy. The only way we will be able to do this, preventively, is through vaccination and antivirals, integrated with technology to make it more effective. But if we are able to do that, you prevent transmission through vaccination and antivirals, you prevent deaths because your doctors are better prepared and your hospitals are strengthened, your economy can open up. The balance is made possible by your pandemic preparedness,” Dr. Dayrit said.