Missing: Rational governance | Inquirer Opinion

Missing: Rational governance | Inquirer Opinion

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From Sept. 9 to Nov. 8, an international touring production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Cats,” headlined by Filipino West End star Joanna Ampil, is running at the Charlotte Theater in Seoul, South Korea. That’s right — one of the first COVID-19 hotspots at the start of the pandemic in March is so back to normal that live performances in theaters, along with movies, nightlife, and crowded malling, have resumed in the country.

Italy, the hardest-hit European country in the early days of the coronavirus, has likewise bounced back from the contagion. “Life feels normal in most of Italy,” reported the Financial Times. “Restaurants and bars are open, people enjoy late-summer trips to the beach and children have returned to school.”

In Vietnam’s resort city of Da Nang, which saw an explosion of 550 COVID-19 cases in July, the draconian lockdown imposed by the Vietnamese government has now been lifted completely. The country itself “went more than six months without even one death caused by COVID-19,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp., and “has gone more than two weeks without a single case of coronavirus via community transmission, effectively beating the virus for a second time.”

Vietnam is among 19 countries or territories cited by the international medical journal Lancet as having succeeded in suppressing COVID-19. Ten of the countries are in the Asia-Pacific region, with Taiwan topping the list, which also includes Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Malaysia, New Zealand, Uganda, Togo, Pakistan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Uruguay, South Korea, Finland, Cuba, and Rwanda.

Yes, even China, where COVID-19 originated, is back to a frenzied normal, and is not shy about flaunting it. Wuhan, ground zero of the pandemic, shook a still-reeling world some weeks ago when photos surfaced of an enormous pool party where hundreds of Wuhan residents enjoyed a concert while crammed in the water. More recent pictures showed residents of Hubei’s capital clubbing and partying without masks; the city itself is said to have had no new COVID-19 cases since May.

Have these countries discovered or developed a vaccine that has allowed them to triumph over the pandemic, or at least suppress it to such a degree that they could resume their normal way of life without undue restrictions?

Obviously not. There is yet no scientifically approved antidote for COVID-19. What these countries have done is a no-nonsense, nose-to-the-grindstone effort to implement the prescriptions of the World Health Organization and their own experts on how to effectively address and manage the public health crisis.

The innovative, committed responses of these countries represent a solution for now, such as it is, to an open-ended pandemic, one that has allowed their economies and people’s lives to regain some normalcy, subject to “new normal” health protocols.

These countries are proof: There are ways to survive and live with the coronavirus beyond severe lockdowns and endless quarantines, which, planned poorly and implemented harshly and erratically, only cause untold hardships on the populace and impose a devastating strain on the economy.

Might all these extensively reported success stories have escaped the busy — some may say addled — mind of Harry Roque? The presidential spokesperson lashed out this week at Vice President Leni Robredo’s suggestions to improve the government’s response to the pandemic by claiming that the stark prospect for the Philippines is either vaccine or bust: “Habang wala talagang bakuna, walang gamot, wala talagang solusyon sa pandemyang ito.”

Is that so? Have the likes of Taiwan, Cambodia, et al. fallen apart because there is no vaccine? Are other countries suffering through the same punishing lockdowns still in force in the Philippines — already the world’s longest — in the continuing absence of a cure for COVID-19?

Or isn’t it that the Duterte administration simply can’t get its pandemic act together after all these months — hence the Philippines’ middling 66th ranking (out of 91 countries) in the Lancet list? As some disbelievingly pointed out, on or about the same week Thailand was back to holding beauty pageants, Duterte officials were still in (typical) disarray, contradicting each other on the efficacy of the bizarre new rule — made without consulting health experts — progressively reducing physical distancing in public transport.

“The good news is it’s possible to control this pandemic,” said economist Jeffrey Sachs in a recent online business conference, pointing to Asian countries that “have kept the transmission of the virus to a very low level.”

But as to why the Philippines has been unable to?

“If we were rational and well-governed, we would actually find a way through this without massive pain and suffering,” he noted. “The epidemic is itself controllable through rational policies.”


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