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Philippines ‘worst place to be’ amid pandemic, says Bloomberg resilience report for September

The Philippines hit the bottom of Bloomberg's COVID-19 resilience rankings for September, in a steady slide down the study involving 53 countries and territories across the globe.

The country placed 52nd in June before dropping to 53rd in September, with a resilience score of 40.2.

In an article accompanying the report, Bloomberg said that the Philippines "faces a perfect storm" of the Delta variant coupled with "inadequate" testing and lockdowns that have disrupted the economy and people’s livelihoods.

The article also quotes President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesperson Harry Roque as pointing to vaccine inequity among countries as a reason for the dismal ranking.

'Likely high levels of undetected infection'

The Philippines scored low on all four of Bloomberg's metrics for reopening, being among the lowest in vaccine coverage, among the most stringent in lockdowns, among the lowest in flight capacity, and among the lowest in COVID-19 containment.

For the latter, Bloomberg pointed out that testing and contact tracing remain slow, with the small number of tests conducted resulting in a one-in-four or 27% positive result.

"The metric indicates the government is only testing the sickest patients for [COVID-19] and that there’s likely high levels of undetected infection in the community," the report said.

It also noted that among Southeast Asian nations, the Philippines was the last to see its Delta wave ebb, after it peaked in mid-September.

'Fragmented response'

The report also said that the Philippines' current COVID-19 response is "fragmented" along local lines, with no "uniform guidance" to lead village-level health teams, who follow guidelines set by LGUs.

It is the national government, however, that sets the broader lockdown level for the Philippines and for the regions, with the National Capital Region currently operating at Level 4 on a new COVID-19 alert level system that allows more businesses to reopen. 

Infections remain high even as the independent OCTA Research team note that the country's reproduction number has dipped below 1, with 2,535,732 confirmed cases as of Wednesday, one of the highest tallies in the region.

Amid community mobility that is 29% below pre-pandemic level and one of the weaker health infrastructures in the study, Bloomberg added, "Hospitals are understaffed and low on beds, forcing patients to queue. Although borders are closed to most foreigners, migrant workers can return, straining quarantine facilities."

Rest of Southeast Asia

Other Southeast Asian nations have not fared well either. Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam were ranked 49th, 50th, 51st, and 52nd, respectively.

“While the region’s outbreak may have peaked, their export-reliant economies are still struggling from the hit,” Bloomberg said.

“Once the gold standard for virus containment, the Asia-Pacific is faltering in the era of vaccination. Not only are their strict measures less effective in the face of Delta, former top rankers in the region are also grappling with how to reopen after such a long period of isolationist border curbs.”

DOH reacts

Reached for comment by reporters, Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Department of Health was open to such observations.

“This kind of analysis gives us more direction on how we will do our [COVID-19] response,” Vergeire said in an online press conference on Wednesday.

“We are trying to learn day by day because the situation is really evolving,” she said, adding that all countries in the world had experienced a rise and fall in case numbers.

She said the country’s vaccination coverage has “tremendously improved” since the immunization campaign began in March.

Vergeire added the government has introduced a new system focused on granular lockdowns instead of wide-scale restrictions “so that eventually we can safely open up our economy.”

The Philippines, whose economy emerged from recession in the second quarter of 2021, has so far reported 2.53 million COVID-19 cases, including 38,164 deaths.

The number of fully vaccinated Filipinos stood at 20.58 million as of September 28, representing 26.68% of the eligible population (77.1 million).

The target population does not include minors, although the government said they would be covered by the immunization campaign beginning next month.

European nations occupied the top spots this month, with Ireland leading the pack with a score of 79.4.

Spain placed second, followed by The Netherlands, Finland, and Denmark. Completing the top 10 list are the United Arab Emirates, France, Switzerland, Canada, and Norway.

Former leader the United States, meanwhile, plunged to 28th place.

Indicators used in the rankings include people covered by vaccines; lockdown severity; flight capacity; vaccinated travel routes; one-month cases per 100,000; three-month case fatality rate; total deaths per million; positive test rate; community mobility; 2021 GDP growth forecast; universal healthcare coverage; and human development index. —KBK/RSJ/BM, GMA News