Two months since the first signal of a COVID-19 outbreak emerged from China, foreign ministers and secretaries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have committed to a joint ASEAN-China emergency response to the pandemic, with hopes of averting a virus which has shown no signs of ceasing.
It was on 20 February when leaders of these countries, along with their health sector officials, organized video conferences and committed to face the new coronavirus head-on.
Aside from China, also included in the loop are Japan and South Korea, which formed the ASEAN Plus Three framework, to exchange information and best practices on epidemic prevention and control, diagnosis and treatment.
It was expected to become a widescale fight against the unseen enemy, which included their foreign affairs, transport, finance, information, defense and immigration officials for a cross-sectoral coordinated approach among these countries, which met the early stages of the outbreak with disjointed and uneven responses.
Results of their initial reactions against the pandemic were mixed.
Singapore and Vietnam swiftly took actions with extensive contact tracing, clear and constant public communication, and locally developed test kits for early containment. These have given Singapore and Vietnam impressive initial victories, while the rest have encountered hard times to contain the spread of the virus.
These two countries were the first to implement travel bans and dispatched medical supplies before the need came.
Laos and Timor Leste have the least COVID-19 infections with 23 and 29 victims, according to data from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US think-tank.
Cambodia, despite Prime Minister Hun Sen downplaying the health issue, has 283 victims. So far.
After an initial success, Singapore had seen a second wave and now has 57,901 COVID-19 victims.
Vietnam has 1,124 with no additional infection. The country’s recent daily infection records showed single-digit marks, with zero on Friday.
Thailand, which at present is beset with protests against its political leaders, has seen just 3,669 infections.
Indonesia has the most COVID-19 victims with 353,461. Much of the blame was placed on Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s head for his transparency and inadequate appreciation of the enormity of the problem that lulled Indonesia into complacency until the call was issued by the ASEAN Plus Three before March.
It is now paying the price with 12,347 deaths and only 2,479,922 tests conducted.
While the Philippines has the second highest number of infections with 351,750 before the weekend, the number of COVID-19 deaths are only half of that of Indonesia at 6,531.
The country has tested double that of its bigger ASEAN neighbor with 4,305,171 tests conducted.
Still, the participant countries could not yet claim victory over the virus.
The scourge remains until a vaccine is ready for distribution.
President Rodrigo Duterte is close to begging the countries which have come nearer the full development of vaccines.
He has been knocking on the doors of the United States, Russia and China — the Philippines’ biggest allies — for the vaccines which are not yet there.
The Philippines does not have the money to buy all the vaccines it needs, too. But that can be answered in many ways.
Its hope now rests on the willingness of the three countries to provide us with the inoculation once it’s ready.
Let us not forget, too, that there are 195 countries vying for the delivery of these medicines, which have yet to go on full production.
The latest we can cling on to is China’s vow to provide the Philippines with vaccines “within its capacity.”
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday promised to give priority to the needs of developing countries, among them the ASEAN members.
This was after he held talks last week with Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the Indonesian president’s special envoy, and Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in Yunnan Province. He also went to Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand and Singapore to make the same assurance.
That’s how close — or far — we are in this fight against COVID-19. But there’s hope, at least.
It is during these times that we set aside conflicts and work together for mankind.