By Genalyn Kabiling
A regional coronavirus response fund and a reserve of essential medical supplies will be established to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic based on a consensus reached by the Southeast Asian leaders and their counterparts from China, Japan, and South Korea.
The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and three dialogue partners have agreed to take strong and collective steps on public health protection, and keep markets open for trade and investments, among others, to fight the spread of COVID-19 and address its socio-economic impact.
The decision was reached during Tuesday’s virtual summit of ASEAN Plus Three (APT) on the COVID-19. President Duterte was among the regional leaders who attended the online meeting.
In a joint statement, the APT leaders agreed to “ensure adequate financing to contain the pandemic and protect our peoples, including through the proposed establishment of the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund for public health emergencies.” The funds will be reallocated from existing ASEAN+1 and APT cooperation funds, with possible additional support from external partners.
The regional leaders also committed to consider seeing “an APT reserve of essential medical supplies that enables rapid response to emergency needs.”
The group recognized the “unprecedented and severe challenges” posed by the pandemic and pledged to “strengthen solidarity, enhance cooperation and mutual support among the APT countries to control and contain the spread of the pandemic, addressing the adverse impact of the pandemic on our societies and economies.”
An early warning system in the region for pandemics and other epidemic diseases, sharing of best practices, and providing technical support to prevent, contain, and treat infected cases will also be strengthened by ASEAN and its three dialogue partners.
National and regional capacities will be enhanced to prepare and respond to public health threats, including the protection of health workers, provision of adequate medicines, medical equipment and supplies “by adhering to objectives of efficacy, safety, and accessibility.”
The group also agreed to strengthen cooperation on research, development, and distribution of anti-viral medicines and vaccines, promising to ensure efficiency, safety, equity, accessibility, and affordability.
On human resources and capacity for public health sector, they committed to support the upgrading of health facilities, training of public health workers, and provision of scholarships for students.
To combat fake news and reduce stigma and discrimination, the leaders committed to step up effective public communication on relevant government policies and public health and safety information.
To mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the people and economies, the leaders vowed to prevent unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to regional supply chain. They vowed to “keep markets open for trade and investment” to ensure food security, and stabilize manufacturing and supply of essential goods and services.
To keep inter-connectivity in the region, they also agreed to facilitate essential movement of people, including business travels, while safeguarding public health.
Post-pandemic recovery plans will also be strengthened to stimulate economic development, restore growth, and prevent economic recession in the region. The leaders also agreed to implement measures to help people and businesses, especially small businesses and vulnerable groups.
The regional leaders also committed to “stay united on high alert and be ready to take any further action that may be required.”
The coronavirus, which originated from Wuhan, China, has so far infected more than 1.9 million people globally, and left 126,681 people dead based on the tracker run by Johns Hopkins University.
In the APT group, China has the most number of coronavirus cases at 83,351, followed by South Korea with 10,591 cases, and Japan with 7,885.
As of April 14, the Philippines has recorded 5,223 cases of infections, Malaysia has 4,937 cases, while Indonesia reported 4,839.