Global, regional and bilateral cooperation in the time of COVID-19
DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Han Dong-Man (The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2020 - 12:00am

The coronavirus 2019 or COVID-19 has put many countries around the world in difficult situations. Since the time it was identified in January this year, this insidious ailment has reached every continent, infecting and killing people more than any other illness since the Influenza of 1918. Korea was one of the first countries to suffer this new disease and the Philippines has not been spared from the pandemic.

Filipino officials, together with thousands of health professionals and caregivers, have been exerting great effort to contain the virus, but just like in other countries, the healthcare system may already be under extreme pressure. In this time of critical health crisis, cooperation among people and between countries is especially relevant to stem the tide of the outbreak.

In Korea, the Korean government, with its maximum efforts to respond swiftly and with the people’s support, has so far managed to flatten the curve and contain the virus. TRUST – which stands for Transparency, Robust screening and quarantine, Unique but Universally applicable, Strict control, and Treatment – was Korea’s answer to the outbreak. As Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said in a TV interview in March, “openness, transparency, and fully keeping the public informed” fostered the people’s trust in government. She underscored the importance of testing as this allows for early detection, minimizes the further spread of the disease, and quickly treats people who are infected, all of which accounts for the low fatality rate in Korea.

Korea’s “TRUST” approach has gained positive recognition around the world in the international media and in the diplomatic arena. Recently during the G20 Extraordinary Virtual Leaders’ Summit on COVID-19, Korea shared its pre-emptive and transparent quarantine efforts under the principles of openness, transparency and democracy. President Moon Jae-in also emphasized the importance of international solidarity and cooperation. Korea also shared its expertise and experience in the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on COVID-19 in efforts to strengthen international and regional cooperation in the global fight against COVID-19.

In addition, Korea hopes to deepen its bilateral cooperation with the Philippines as well in the fight against COVID-19. During my meeting with Health Secretary Francisco Duque III early March, I shared with him the Korean government’s immediate and innovative countermeasures to the coronavirus, including drive-through testing stations, mobile applications, enhanced quarantining capabilities, transparency in reporting relevant data, strict monitoring and investigation of people who may have been infected, and their intensive treatment. Secretary Duque expressed particular interest in Korea’s quick diagnostic capability and the Department of Health has, in fact, imported test kits from Korea and other countries in order to accelerate the testing of people under investigation or monitoring for possible COVID-19 infection. Executive Secretary Medialdea has also expressed similar interest during my telephone conversation with him.

In this period of life-threatening necessity, the Korean government has decided to provide humanitarian assistance of $500,000 to the Philippines, its long-time friend. Taking into account the urgency of testing a greater number of people, as gleaned from my meeting with Secretary Duque, Korean-made diagnostic kits will be donated to hasten the testing of more Filipinos. There is a Korean saying that “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Even the private sector is pitching in. Recently, two Korean companies, KP Trading and C-So Funding, together with Senator Manny Pacquiao, donated about 700,000 face masks for the use of COVID-19 frontliners in the Philippines. Several other Korean companies such as LG, CJ, PSMC and KEPCO have also made donations to local communities, including barangays and schools, to help combat COVID-19. In addition, the Korean community in the Philippines has joined in providing financial assistance to the local police as well.

Speaking of cooperation, I would like to express my gratitude to the Philippine government, particularly Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, and DILG Secretary Eduardo Ano, Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente, DFA Undersecretary Brigido Dulay, for assisting stranded Koreans in the Philippines to safely return to Korea during the period of the enhanced community quarantine.

With the combined efforts of its government, its people, and its friends around the globe including Korea, I believe that the Philippines will be able to neutralize the coronavirus outbreak and witness a drop in the number of cases and a rise in recoveries. Once the COVID-19 situation has subsided and things have returned to normal, I hope many Korean tourists will once again visit the Philippines and that Korea will continue to remain the number one country in terms of the number of foreign tourist arrivals in the Philippines. Hopefully their volume will exceed two million per year, which is not just an affirmation of our peoples’ closeness but also of our collective victory over COVID-19.

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(HAN Dong-man is Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Philippines)

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