Novel coronavirus exposes govt’s ineptitude | Inquirer Opinion

Novel coronavirus exposes govt’s ineptitude

04:01 AM February 11, 2020

The debacle surrounding the Philippine government’s response to the novel coronavirus (nCoV) emergency in the Philippines is merely symptomatic of its utter inability to handle a crisis of such scale with even the bare minimum competence.

In particular, the Philippine public health system, long desperate for funding and equipment, took five days before confirming the country’s first nCoV case.


Conditions such as these are what inevitably lead to private health providers jacking up the prices of medicines and health services, forcing citizens to choose between hopelessly poor public services and exorbitantly priced private options.

Even beyond the health sector, years of government neglect and misplaced priorities have made the Philippines a state woefully ill-equipped to deal with a crisis of this kind; indeed, almost every aspect of society is set up in such a way as to lead to a massive, catastrophic health outbreak such as the nCoV crisis.


Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s call for citizens to avoid crowded areas is grossly out of touch with a society in which crowding is inevitable due to poor urban planning and even poorer public transportation.

The Department of Health’s advice to wear face masks is almost comical, considering how the state previously sanctioned the export of an entire shipment of face masks to China, leaving its own citizens once again in the lurch.

Even calls to wash one’s hands regularly are ignorant of the long periods that citizens have to endure with water supply cutoffs, and in some cases, even a total lack of access to clean water.

All told, the state of government services has long been a recipe for disaster, and it was only a matter of time before a crisis such as this would expose its fallibility.

Not even the travel bans, which President Duterte belatedly chose to impose in the aftermath of the confirmation of the first case in the Philippines, have a perfect record of alleviating the effects of mass outbreaks.

Evidence from previous similar outbreaks such as SARS in 2003, bird flu in 2006, and swine flu in 2009 all point toward travel bans at best delaying the spread of an outbreak, without significantly affecting the number of those infected.

In addition, such measures are likely to limit the movement of medical personnel and supplies across state borders, and have far-reaching adverse effects on states’ economies.


Ultimately, states must have strong enough policies and systems to never even have to consider such measures — standards which the Philippines falls well short of.

In the end, it is once again the marginalized who are set to suffer the most from the government’s negligence and incompetence. While the elite hoard enough face masks to last them and their families for months on end, the masses desperately search stores for available masks, to no avail.

While the elite get around via the relative safety of private transportation, the masses must contend with crowded buses, trains, and walkways, each medium ripe for the quick transmission of the virus.

While the elite will no doubt be afforded only the highest of medical standards in sprawling private hospitals, the masses will be left at the mercy of the same hugely underfunded public health system that took five days to diagnose the first nCoV case in the Philippines.

The nCoV crisis is not a sudden, unprecedented event; it is simply symbolic of the massive, widening chasm between the elite that continue to rule, and the masses that continue to suffer at their hands.

We call for improved public services, especially a health care system that will not leave its citizens scrambling for face masks and alcohol bottles.

We strongly caution against the use of racist remarks and rhetoric to refer to those afflicted by the virus, and reiterate that outbreaks such as these know no nationality or race.

Finally, we call for the end of elite rule in all its forms, and for a more just and equitable society in which crises such as the nCoV outbreak can be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

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TAGS: government ineptitude, letter, nCoV, novel coronavirus, Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan
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