Gov’t needs long-term reforms to address COVID-19 — health expert

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 21) — The government must also think long-term when deciding on how to address the coronavirus crisis, an international public health expert said on Tuesday.

Dr. Suzy Pineda Mercado said besides making changes to swiftly confront the issues at hand, resources must also be directed to ensure that the country can ultimately be self-sufficient amid COVID-19 threats.

“I think COVID isn’t going to go away,” she told CNN Philippines. Mercado is among the experts who joined the meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday to discuss the next possible courses of action regarding the coronavirus disease.

“This is something we’ll have to deal with over a period of time. Therefore it’s very important that we put into place the right public health infrastructure to be able to deal with it until there is a vaccine,” she added.

In a media briefing on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque announced that the President is offering up to ₱10 million reward to any Filipino who will discover a vaccine against COVID-19.

READ: Duterte floats ₱10-M reward for Filipino who can invent COVID-19 vaccine

“If a vaccine is developed somewhere else in the world, we’re not likely to be high in the list of priority countries that are gonna get this vaccine,” Mercado said. She stressed that having the capability to manufacture our own medicines is something the government needs to address.

She added that reforms to improve the country’s laboratory systems, medical facilities for disease control, and capacity to produce protective equipment must also be underscored.

This need for self-sufficiency comes amid reports of global shortage of protective equipment, especially among health workers battling the viral disease.

“We’ve seen from the past few weeks that we cannot rely on imported supplies and materials, or even vaccines, drugs, and medicines,” she said.

Discussions on next move, progress in battle against COVID-19

The President, in a televised address, earlier announced he will lift the Luzon-wide lockdown once a vaccine or cure against the disease is available in the market.

However, Mercado said that Duterte is a “very open-minded person” and has been considering other options based on experts' recommendations.

“He’s deeply concerned about what the consequences of a lifting would be if we don't have a vaccine,” Mercado said. “But I think it's very clear to him now that we’re going to have to do without a vaccine, and people’s behavior needs to change if we want to sustain the gains of the quarantine.”

The health expert stressed that once the quarantine is lifted, people must still observe preventive practices such as use of face masks, cough etiquette, as well as physical distancing and hand washing.

“We have to change the way we live, and it’s going to be a new world for us," she said.

READ: Duterte to decide on Luzon quarantine on Thursday – Sen. Go

The Department of Health has so far recorded 6,599 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 437 deaths and 654 recoveries.

According to the Johns Hopkins University global tracker, the country now stands at the 39th place with the most number of COVID-19 infections worldwide. The country’s numbers pale in comparison to the United States which has recorded an alarming 788,110 cases as of April 21.

However, in the Southeast Asia region, the Philippines has the third most number of cases, next to Singapore and Indonesia. Singapore has 9,125 cases, with 11 deaths and 801 recoveries. Meanwhile, Indonesia has 7,135 cases, with 616 deaths and 842 recoveries.

Even so, Mercado has backed the effectiveness of the community quarantine in curbing the spread of the virus and said that the country is "winning this fight."

She stressed, however, that further preparations and steps must be made.

She said these include the need to accelerate testing, adding that it’s “ridiculous to say it's mass testing if only a few hundred are being tested.”

“Germany did a combination of test swabbing plus rapid test kits,” Mercado said. “There are so many models we can use out there from other countries that can guide us to improve our testing, and we really need to do that in the next 10 days.”