EDITORIAL - Commitment to transparency
(The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2020 - 12:00am

With the coronavirus disease 2019 still ravaging the globe, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and three of ASEAN’s dialogue partners held an unprecedented special summit by video conference last Tuesday, committing to a united front against COVID-19.

Among other things, the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on COVID-19 committed to ensure sufficient funding for the region to contain the pandemic. The group is also considering a proposal to establish the ASEAN Response Fund for public health emergencies.

A joint statement issued at the end of the special summit also committed ASEAN and its partners China, Japan and South Korea to the strengthening of an early warning system for emerging infectious diseases in the region as well as regular, timely and transparent exchange of real-time information on COVID-19, to include measures being taken by each country in dealing with the pandemic.

Whether the commitment will take root remains to be seen. After SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome spread from China’s Guangdong province in 2003, sickening over 8,000 people around the world and killing over 700, all countries should have taken to heart the importance of transparency and early reporting when faced with emerging infectious diseases.

Transparency improved in the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in 2012. MERS has infected nearly 2,500 people and killed about 860 so far in 27 countries. With SARS and MERS still not fully contained, the world could have been spared an enormous amount of suffering if a timely alert and full information had been released when the novel coronavirus that causes what is now called COVID-19 emerged last year in Wuhan City, in China’s Hubei province. Epidemiologists believe the COVID-19 virus jumped to humans from bats.

As of yesterday, COVID-19 had infected nearly 2.02 million people in nearly the entire planet, with 127,630 deaths. Millions have lost jobs and livelihoods and become impoverished. The International Monetary Fund has said that thanks to the pandemic, the global economy faces its worst year since the Great Depression. Let’s hope the ASEAN Plus Three commitment to transparency and the release of real-time accurate information on infectious diseases will not be mere rhetoric.

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