The COVID-19 timeline between Philippines and Vietnam (January — April 2020)
What I love about the people closest to me is that they call me out on my bullshit. Sometimes I spout stuff that are grossly mistaken, and I like that they remind me of my mistakes. More importantly, they force me to sharpen my arguments and establish them in fact, which improves my thinking skills.
My position is that the Philippine government has been generally incompetent toward the handling of the COVID-19 crisis. I do understand that the humanistic argument bears relevance and recognize that I’m sometimes too distant and cold-hearted with my propositions. My thrust with this write-up is to show that there was not only one, but many failed policies that compounded the problem of the pandemic we’re facing right now.
I think the best way to address this argument is to parallel the responses of the Vietnamese government, universally recognized to have one of the best responses against the pandemic, with the responses of the Philippine government. This will provide a coup d’oeil that will, hopefully, evince the large difference in competence of the two governments.
Over this span of time, this is the timeline of the Philippine government vis-a-vis Vietnam’s:
- On January 5, 2020, Secretary of Health Duque announced that the Bureau of Quarantine will have intensified checks on travelers coming to the Philippines.
- On January 23, 2020, the Philippines stopped accepting flights from Wuhan, China. However, it had kept accepting flights from other parts of China. This was a week ahead of Vietnam’s suspension of flights from and to China; however, in Vietnam, all Chinese flights were suspended.
- On January 27, 2020, suspected COVID-19 patients were monitored.
- The Philippines would record its first COVID-19 patient on January 30, 2020.
- Duterte would now ban all flights to and from Hubei province ONLY the same day that Vietnam did against the entirety of China (January 31, 2020) despite his initial hesitancy to even block flights from China. To me, this was the first egregious mistake in the fight against COVID-19. The Philippines was open to other Chinese flights: when asked two days prior, his response was, “”Mahirap ‘yang ano, sabihin mong you suspend everything because they are not also suspending theirs and they continue to respect the freedom flights that we enjoy.”
- On February 3, 2020, Vietnam aggressively quarantined all travelers from virus-affected areas, focusing on China. Meanwhile, the Philippine government monitored the temperature of all arriving foreigners. Duterte was quoted to say “China has been kind to us, we should show the same favor to them. Stop this xenophobia thing.”
- February 13, 2020 was one day where the “butterfly effect” of proactive health measures would redound upon the respective countries. Vietnam would seal off an entire commune, while the Philippines, on the other hand, has Duterte say: “Huwag makinig diyan sa mga haka-haka. Sa gobyerno kayo nakatutok. Nandiyan ang totoo sa gobyerno, wala diyan sa mga taong haka-haka na wala namang ginawa kung hindi manakot sa kapwa niya tao. (Don’t listen to those assumptions. Focus on the government. The truth is in the government, not in the assuming people who have done nothing but create fear in his fellow man.)”
- On March 6, 2020, Philippines would report its first local-transmission case of COVID-19. Vietnam, on the other hand, would impose another aggressive local quarantine on a street where the 17th diagnosed COVID-19 patient in Vietnam resided.
- Another two more locally-transmitted cases were observed in the Philippines on March 7, 2020.
- While Vietnam closed all its public schools on February 1, 2020, requests to close schools were not even implemented by as late as March 7, 2020 in the Philippines.
- On March 9, 2020, Duterte rejected a Metro Manila lockdown by saying “Hindi ko sinasabi na hihintayin mo magkasakit lahat. It’s not that, but you have to balance. (I am not saying that we wait for everyone to get sick. It’s not that, but you have to balance.)” Meanwhile, in Vietnam, a nationwide nCOV tracking application was launched and implemented the same day.
- On March 12, the Philippines’ travel ban extended to all countries with local transmission. Three days later, March 15, Duterte would declare a quarantine for Metro Manila. By then, local cases would already top 100.
- By March 16, Vietnam would mandate wearing of face masks. The Philippines, on the other hand, would have … the first of our Enhanced Community Quarantines on March 17.
- It would be only on April 2, 2020 when Luzon, one of the main islands of the Philippines, require that face masks are mandated. The mandate would be extended one week later to the entire country (April 9).
- On April 13, 2020, the Philippines would have the most number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.
Vietnam did not even block its returning citizens to its country. However, it was more aggressive in acting upon the virus because there already was a precedent with the first SARS outbreak. As a result, their economy is still going strong, while ours has suffered one of the biggest contractions in Philippine history.
I do not discount the efforts made by the government to address the pandemic, but most of these have been too little and too late. The tactic that economically-progressive countries all have against the pandemic, be they developed or developing, was that they went all-out against the pandemic early on.
Next year, let us not forget what had happened. Let us elect competent and proactive government officials who will prevent our country from suffering another meltdown because of indecision and reactive behavior.