SEATTLE, Washington — As COVID-19 in the Philippines continues to be a problem, the government is struggling to curb the spread of the virus and secure resources for its people. The delayed reaction of the Duterte administration mixed with its inability to provide stability for its projected 1.2 million newly unemployed citizens has created a situation in which the nation needs dire help. The good news, however, comes in the form of foreign aid. Many neighboring Southeast Asian countries have answered the Philippines’ need for assistance.
COVID-19 in the Philippines
The Philippines stands as one of Southeast Asia’s hardest-hit nations in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The island nation currently reports the second-highest fatality rates of any country in the area after Indonesia as well as one of the lowest rates for testing relative to its population. In contrast, Vietnam reports nearly twice the amount of tests performed though its population is approximately 10 million fewer people.
The government, under President Rodrigo Duterte, was initially skeptical of the severity of the virus and slow to respond. It has since cracked down hard on the virus, enforcing a strict curfew and social distancing laws. It has also constructed barriers between some of the Philippines’ largest cities to prevent further spread of COVID-19. The Philippines’ lockdown might be the harshest response to the coronavirus to date as violations of coronavirus prevention measures have led to at least one death and many arrests at the hands of Filipino police officers and military.
To make matters worse, many low-income and informal workers in the Philippines are unable to work and have become increasingly desperate for economic aid that has yet to materialize. People go out into the streets in search of food or medicine and have yet to receive an answer to their needs other than brutality on behalf of the government. The lagged and aggressive response to COVID-19 in the Philippines has caused a sharp spike in the demand for medical supplies and financial aid, which the current administration is incapable of meeting.
The Good News
While coronavirus places the Philippines in a tumultuous position and the president’s outlook is bleak, the good news is that many countries are increasing the amount of aid sent to the Philippines in order to fight the crisis. Neighboring countries, including China, South Korea and Singapore, sent more than 168,000 test kits to enable more widespread testing. China and Japan each dispatched teams of medical experts to aid Filipino health workers in the testing, study and treatment of the disease. Additionally, these neighboring countries have donated at least 32 ventilators, hundreds of thousands of masks and other crucial equipment for health professionals to treat the virus.
China is the largest contributor to these foreign aid efforts so far. Many individual cities in China have donated to their “sister-cities” in the Philippines. The United States also offered $4 million in health assistance and 1,300 cots for those receiving treatment. According to the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, the funds will be used to prepare laboratories for large-scale coronavirus testing and contact-tracing in the pursuit of prevention, treatment and control over the spread of the disease.
These international efforts answer the call for the much-needed medical supplies and personnel in the Philippines as its struggle to combat the pandemic continues. However, COVID-19 in the Philippines is far from over. The government’s health and financial systems will need to adjust its current strategy to apply the resources effectively and slow the development of the disease. At the very least, this injection of neighborly aid puts the Philippines in a much stronger position to catch up with the COVID-19 crisis, making the situation far less desperate.
– James Ring