We’re not performing spectacularly vs Covid-19, but not badly either

HOW is our country objectively performing in this global war against the deadliest pandemic in the past 100 years?

In gist, not as fantastic as Switzerland, Germany and Japan, but better than the United States, the United Kingdom, and yes, a colleague of mine’s model, Sweden. We’re not doing badly: in a spectrum consisting of the safest country to be in during this pandemic to the riskiest nation to be in, we’re to the right of the middle.

Out of 200 countries the group studied, deploying sophisticated mathematical tools and accessing “big data,” the Philippines is ranked 55th in terms of residents’ safety in this pandemic. That means we’re better off than 145 countries of the world, but worse than 54 nations. The study used points for over 60 metrics. We got 532 points, with the safest country, Switzerland, getting 752 points.

We’re a safer country to be in during this pandemic than (other than those already mentioned) France, Russia and Iran, which in the listing were ranked 60, 61 and 72, respectively. (The caveat here is that the study was undertaken in June, and two months is a long time for this pandemic.)

Source: Deep Knowledge Group (Note: Not shown here are the countries ranked 101 to 200.)

It is simplistic to evaluate a country’s success or failure in addressing the pandemic by using the usual statistics such as number of cases and deaths. It is extremely stupid — as one Filipino Iranian writer did — to blame it solely on President Duterte.

Another Yellow columnist claimed that the fight against Covid-19 has failed because the number of cases has steeply increased since March. This guy is totally unaware that we are part of the world: infections in the world have increased from 350,000 to 6.5 million in the same period. Only very few countries had managed to stop the virus from spreading. There’s something about this pandemic — perhaps new strains have emerged, or that it has become so virulent as to stay alive for long — that it defies all our attempts to contain it.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a complex phenomenon, not only because its biological features and dynamics haven’t really been fully unraveled (or else we would have had a vaccine already), but because a government does not confront the pandemic in an idealized or ahistorical setting. The best of state leaders would have to confront the realities of his or her nation’s situation — its culture, infrastructure and human resources — at this moment of its history, built up over decades and even centuries.

Consider for instance the “land of the free, and the home of the brave”: Americans are insisting they have the freedom to wear masks or not; they are brave enough to risk infection at parties.

The worst of state leaders (Trump definitely) can reduce to impotence the best institutions to deal with the pandemic. A nation with a hands-off leader (Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is said to be one) but with institutions so experienced in dealing with disasters (i.e., earthquakes and hurricanes) and a strong communal ethos could easily beat the pandemic.

The Deep Knowledge study categorized these factors determining a nation’s capability in dealing with the pandemic as follows.

First, is quarantine efficiency: its scale, timeliness, the imposition of criminal penalties for violating the quarantine, economic support for the quarantined citizens, economic and supply chain freezing, and travel restrictions. We ranked 75 here with a score of 111 (the No. 1 in this category is Germany with 194). Among the worst countries for this parameter are the UK, Russia and Brazil.

Second is emergency preparedness: social emergency resilience, emergency military mobilization. experience, surveillance capabilities, and previous national emergency experience. We ranked high here, at the 23rd slot (No. 1 is China). Yellow critics who are allergic to the military and ex-military men should take note of this: this rigorous study using big data and advanced mathematics views a country’s ability for quick military mobilization to fight the pandemic as an asset, not a liability.

Source: Deep Knowledge Group (Note: shown for each parameter is only the quarter where the Philippines is listed.)

The third parameter involves monitoring and detection: monitoring systems and disaster management, scope of diagnostic methods, testing efficiency, and government surveillance technology for monitoring. We ranked high in this parameter, at 33. No. 1 here is Singapore while Iran, the world’s second largest oil exporter, was in the 100th slot.

The fourth is health care readiness: Covid-19 equipment availability, mobilization of new health care resources, quantity and quality of medical staff, level of healthcare progressiveness; level of technological advancement, and epidemiology system level of development. We did badly here, and we’re ranked at 93. Our score here is 42 points. The No. 1 is Japan with a score more than double that, 108. If instead we had 83 points, as Argentina did, our overall score, instead of 532, would have been 573, which would mean beating Malaysia (565) and Thailand (541). But then our weakness here has been obvious; our medical facilities have been focused for a tiny elite, not the masses.

The fifth parameter is the oddly termed regional resiliency, whose elements explain what it is: infection spread risk, culture-specific and societal discipline, level of modern sanitization methods; demography, chronic diseases, and societal risks. We’re good here, ranked 40.

And last, the sixth, which involves the country’s leadership, the government efficiency parameter: level of security and defense advancement, rapid emergency mobilization, efficiency of government structure, economic sustainability, legislative efficiency, and political stability. We didn’t do too well, ranked at 75 with a score of 111. No 1 is Germany with a score of 194. Our source of schadenfreude would be that Iran, UK, Russia, US, Brazil, and Iran were way below us, ranked respectively at 79, 94, 96, and 97.

I certainly don’t agree with the study’s findings here. We’ve had a high level of security and defense advancement such that the Yellows have been protesting “militarization.” We’ve had rapid emergency mobilization that, together with the private sector, quarantine facilities were built quickly. We’ve had legislative efficiency as the quick passage of the Bayanihan to Heal As One law demonstrated, and certainly political stability that the Yellows are worried now that Duterte will not step down in 2022.

The government structure was efficient in that there was a task force of various departments represented by their secretaries as the command center issuing the guidelines, which were implemented by the local government units. Contrast that to the US’ chaotic system of a bungling presidency and state governments deciding on their own what to do, even in the matter of face masks!

While the various levels of community quarantine (GCQ, ECQ, MECQ, etc.) had been made fun of, these were templates that local governments evenly — or tried to — imposed on their constituents, making up for the expected ignorance of most mayors on this novel threat to their communities.

So there. Stop this bitching and ranting, and even lying to the world, as that Filipino Iranian did in a Japanese publication, that government has failed in confronting the pandemic, and set aside at this time your propaganda jihad against Duterte.

Point out exactly, or even roughly using these six categories, our nation’s weaknesses in confronting this threat to all of us.

So, would you prefer — really now — to live in the major centers of Western civilization?

Email: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao
Book orders: www.rigobertotiglao.com/debunked