Laggard in recovery

Laggard in recovery

In the latest gauge of the quality of the pandemic response, the Philippines sank to the bottom among 121 countries in the COVID-19 Recovery Index, drawn up every month by Nikkei Asia. The Philippines slid to the bottom in September from second to the last in August in terms of COVID infection management, vaccination pace and social mobility.

Health officials explained that the September index was drawn up at the height of the surge driven by the highly infectious Delta variant, at the same time that cases were going down in neighboring countries. While the infection rate in the Philippines slowed down at the end of the month, however, Nikkei Asia noted that the vaccination rate remained among the lowest in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Indonesia, which also grappled with a Delta-driven COVID surge beginning in June that infected over 350 fully vaccinated doctors, claiming the lives of dozens, now ranks the highest within ASEAN in the recovery index at 54th place. Singapore followed at 70th place, Cambodia (76th), Malaysia (102nd), Myanmar (105th), Thailand (109th), Vietnam (118th) and Laos (120th).

Nikkei Asia did take note of improvements in the Philippines as September drew to a close, including the shift to granular lockdowns with a new alert system that allowed greater social mobility and more economic activities to resume.

The country has had the longest and strictest lockdown in the world to contain the coronavirus. The restrictions have resulted in one of the steepest economic contractions in the world and high COVID cases. The 10,670 new COVID infections reported yesterday brought the total to 2,643,494, with deaths hitting 39,232.

Rankings in the recovery index, as Indonesia has shown, can improve significantly. This is the challenge to all countries, especially those whose health care systems have been weak even before the pandemic. The inadequacies in the Philippines’ pandemic response, from testing to contact tracing, border controls and the vaccination program, have been pointed out by various sectors including healthcare workers. The Philippines needs greater effort to avoid being the laggard in COVID recovery.