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Cooperation can help beat COVID-19

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson (The Philippine Star) - April 23, 2020 - 12:00am

These days, it’s more important than ever to listen to expert advice. And one thing that mental health experts say is to cut back on consuming too much news about the battle against Covid-19 if it makes you feel anxious.

Rely on trusted sources and seek practical information. Get facts, not rumours or misinformation. But it’s not easy to shut yourself away from news as we all follow quarantine rules. For many who are isolated and staying at home, media is a valuable source of information and entertainment. So let me offer some positive stories of Filipino-Australian cooperation to help balance your media diet.

Even though the headlines report the closing of international borders, our cooperation has continued behind the scenes. Australian businesses continue to trade, invest and employ Filipino workers.

As part of the Philippine government’s health response, one Australian construction firm, BMD Construction through their JV, PrimeBMD, within the Razon Group, has built three Covid field hospitals in just three weeks. CEO Jeff Gallus said the project has given his team a great sense of purpose during anxious times. Importantly, the company has rotated its workers through the projects, giving them vital income. Australia and the Philippines have worked together on development for close to 50 years and that hasn’t changed because of the coronavirus. Indeed, we’re building on our existing programs to reinforce the Philippine response against Covid-19. With the Philippine Red Cross and the United Nations Population Fund, Australia has provided $3.2 million for health equipment for frontline health workers. That means supplying Personal Protective Equipment for tens of thousands of patients and medical staff; buying ventilators, testing kits, and thermal and infrared scanners. And new ambulances designed to transport Covid-19 patients. This funding has supported triage facilities for hospitals to help isolate vulnerable patients, such as pregnant women, who present with Covid-related symptoms. We’ve also equipped a new Covid-19 testing lab - a measure vital to help health authorities track the virus. As you know, the social impacts of the outbreak weigh heavily on communities.

Schools are closed. And those children who can access online information are exposed to certain risks. So our education cooperation programs are working to help teachers prepare to deliver lessons through digital, TV and radio platforms. And we’re working with telecommunications companies to help protect kids from online predators and other forms of harm. Such cooperation is both a symbol of bayanihan and Aussie mateship.

In today’s testing times, that ethos is a practical way that we can overcome the outbreak. We are seeing that through the work of Filipino student associations in Australia who are raising funds for Philippine health workers. And the Filipino-Australian community who are helping international students by providing food and in some cases, housing. I’m proud of the efforts of many among the Australian alumni network who are pioneering community efforts. Kritzia Santos is leading 2KK - Tulong sa Kapawa Kapatid Foundation’s fundraising alongside digital platforms like Lazada, Shopee, Booky and PayMongo to support medical frontliners and daily wage workers. Donations are used to buy food supplies and PPE sets. So far, the foundation has raised more than P1,728,399. As we spend more time indoors, the need to continue learning hasn’t eased. So I want to highlight the work of Australia Awards alumnus John Baluyot who is leading Oplan Hope - a project producing free webinars. Their flagship program is delivered by volunteer international and local speakers including leaders from the Australian Institute of Training and Development. Their most recent session had 500 attendees via Zoom and 1,200+ live viewers across the country. In a similar vein, Australia Awards alumnus Boom Enriquez has produced a children’s e-storybook on COVID-19 called In the Town of Kamayanan. The cleverly illustrated story is about a community who was attacked by a monster and how the people fought back through the power of dancing (washing) hands. See it on Instagram: Townofkamayan During these hard times, you can see that although we may be physically distancing, Philippine-Australia cooperation remains as close as ever.

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(Steven J Robinson, AO is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines. Follow him on Twitter @AusAmbPH)

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