Duterte calls for closer ASEAN solidarity, cooperation to combat COVID-19

Published April 14, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Genalyn Kabiling

As the world faces an “unfolding catastrophe” brought about by the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), President Duterte has called for the closer solidarity and cooperation among Southeast Asian nations, from improving healthcare capacity to ensuring food security, to combat the pandemic and mitigate its impact on the people.

The President said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) must “collaborate and coordinate within our region and beyond” on four areas to effectively overcome the coronavirus pandemic.

CYBER A.S.E.A.N. SUMMIT – President Rodrigo Roa Duterte joins other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during an online special ASEAN Summit to tackle the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on April 14, 2020. (Presidential photo)’
CYBER A.S.E.A.N. SUMMIT – President Rodrigo Roa Duterte joins other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during an online special ASEAN Summit to tackle the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on April 14, 2020. (Presidential photo)

These areas are the production of medical supplies and medicines, ensuring sufficient rice and other food supply, support for vaccine research and development, and establishment of early warning system for pandemics in the region.

“We are in the middle of an unfolding catastrophe – unprecedented in scale and devastating in impact for all. We face a new and different kind of enemy. In the most visceral way, COVID-19 is upending the totality of our way of life. And this virus threatens to exact the highest tolls – on our peoples and our economies,” Duterte said during the virtual special ASEAN summit on COVID-19 Tuesday.

Hanoi is chairing the ASEAN meeting on COVID-19, with the country touting its success so far in containing the virus with extensive quarantines and social distancing.

In opening remarks via video conference, Vietnam’s premier Nguyen Xuan Phuc hailed the work of ASEAN in fighting the virus so far.

But he warned COVID-19 “has badly impacted people’s lives, their socio-economic situation… challenging stability and social security.”

Vietnam has 265 virus cases and no deaths, while Thailand has likewise officially kept its numbers relatively low at just over 2,500 cases with 40 deaths.

The situation is mixed elsewhere across the region, with fears that limited testing in Indonesia has played out into the low caseload — and under 400 deaths — for a country of 260 million.

Similarly, threadbare health systems from Myanmar to Laos are widely believed to be missing the true scale of infections, while a recent surge in cases in Singapore has raised fears the pandemic could rebound in places which had batted back the initial outbreak.

Remain open for trade

“Our present challenge transcends borders and exempts no one. Regardless of how we handle the crisis within our own respective territories, we can only be truly safe if we defeat this virus everywhere. Let us therefore strengthen our networks of solidarity and cooperation. Let us surmount this crisis together,” he said.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines has the most number of cases of infections with 4,932, followed by Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore based on the tracker operated by Johns Hopkins University as of April 13.

In the face of shortage of medicine and other vital medical equipment and supplies, Duterte said ASEAN members must boost production and facilitate regional trade of these life-saving necessities. He noted that the health care systems are already “under increasing stress” amid surging cases of infections.

The President also urged Southeast Asian countries to remain “open for trade” to help ensure food security despite the coronavirus lockdowns. He said food security is crucial to keep socio-economic and political stability amid these difficult times for the people.

“Our most urgent priority is ensuring sufficient supply of rice for our people,” he said. “ASEAN must remain open for trade. Crisis or no crisis, as no country can stand alone. Let us, therefore, ensure the supply chain connectivity and the smooth flow of goods within our region,” he added.

Duterte also said it was imperative for ASEAN to support research and development for the vaccine for the coronavirus and hasten cooperation with its dialogue partners. He said the Philippines will join the solidarity with clinical trials for the coronavirus treatment.

“Without a vaccine or a cure, we can only delay the spread of the disease. But containment, in whatever form and degree, will have staggering socio-economic implications for all of us,” he said.

To prepare for future outbreaks, the President also proposed the creation of an early warning system for pandemics in the region. He said the new coronavirus disease will not be the last pandemic the world will face.

“We have to be ready for future outbreaks. We, therefore, have to improve and expand existing ASEAN mechanisms to cover public health emergencies. Specifically, we should establish an early warning system for pandemics in the region. This is something vital and concrete that we can do in a collective manner,” he said.

Duterte has expressed support for Thailand’s proposal to establish a COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund. He also thanked Vietnam for its leadership in crafting and coordinating ASEAN’s response from the early stages of the outbreak.

He also extended the country’s gratitude to countries that helped the Philippines amid the coronavirus emergency.

“We appreciate the generosity and support of our brothers and sisters in ASEAN, particularly Brunei Darussalam and Singapore for the timely assistance. I take this opportunity to convey the deepest gratitude of the Filipino nation,” he said. (With a report from AFP)