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4 COVID-19 and Global

Socioeconomic and
Health Issues
A s the worldwide cases of COVID-19 escalate rapidly each day,
more and more countries have imposed stringent measures to stem the spread
of the disease. This pandemic is unprecedented in global history. Although
China and South Korea have seemingly stopped the further spread of the ailment in
their own countries, in many areas of the world infections still multiply exponentially,
overwhelming healthcare workers as death rates ratchet up with nary a vaccine or
prescribed medicines in sight. Experts point to grim scenarios or successive waves of
epidemics lasting for up to 12 and even 18 months. Only one thing is certain: this new
endemic disease poses daunting challenges for global health, society, and economy.

Effects of the pandemic: an economic overview


An article published by Forbes enumerates the four basic ways the pandemic can affect
the global economy. First, it will cause continuous disruptions in the supply chains,1 a
formidable problem but not the worst.2 The second harm results in lost work by those
who are sick or taking care of the sick, as a direct effect of the epidemic. In its early
stages, this health problem may be perceived as having a lesser impact.3 Third is the
indirect effect of quarantines, travel bans, and business closures, which to date has
made the most immediate impact. Once a significant number of people lose their job
and businesses get scarred by losses, the economy will experience demand shocks.
Since several governments are now strictly limiting close human interaction, the global

1  A supply chain is a network between a company and its suppliers to produce and distribute a specific
product to the final buyer. See Will Kenton, “Supply chain,” Investopedia, last modified 10 February 2020,
accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/supplychain.asp.
2  Bill Conerly, “Economic forecast March 20, 2019 for COVID-19, coronavirus impact,” Forbes, 20 March
2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/billconerly/2020/03/20/economic-fore-
cast-update-march-20-2020-for-covid-19-coronavirus-impacts/#438ec32b2f07.
3  Conerly, “Economic forecast March 20, 2020.”

40
41 COVID-19 AND GLOBAL SOCIOECONOMIC AND HEALTH ISSUES

demand for products and services, especially air transportation, food service, and other
service-oriented industries has precipitously declined.4

Figure 1. A graph reflecting


the impact of the COVID-19
The impact of coronavirus on stock markets since the start of the outbreak
pandemic on global stock
markets. Graph modeled after
5%
the graphics of BBC News
“Coronavirus: A visual guide 0%
to the economic impact,”
https://www.bbc.com/news/ -5%
business-51706225.
-10%

-15%

-20%

-25%
Nikkei: -28.7%
-30% Dow Jones: -31.1.%
FTSE 100: -34.1.%
-35%

-40%
January February March

Equity markets take a nosedive amid COVID-19 fears


Barometers of business expectations, global stock markets around the world have slid
downward and experienced extreme volatility as business and industry have halted
their operations to heed government restrictions. The biggest equity markets such as
the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE),5 Dow Jones,6 and Nikkei7 have experi-
enced steep declines since the start of the outbreak, with the FTSE and Dow Jones
experiencing the lowest slump since 1987.8 Asian equity markets also experienced a
steep fall, even as in Australia, markets fell by more than seven percent.9 This global
freefall of stock prices signaled the impending prospects of a worldwide recession.

4  Ibid.
5  FTSE or the FTSE 100 is the index of the 100 biggest companies listed in the London Stock Exchange,
“What is the FTSE?” Hargreaves Lansdown, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.hl.co.uk/help/funds-
shares-and-other-investments/shares/introduction/what-is-the-ftse.
6  The Dow Jones is an index that tracks the thirty large and financially sound companies listed in
the New York Stock Exchange. See Gordon Scoot, “Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) Definition,”
Investopedia, last updated 18 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/
terms/d/djia.asp.
7  Nikkei is Japan’s leading index which tracks the country’s top 225 companies that trades on the Tokyo
Stock Exchange, James Chen, “Nikkei,” Investopedia, 7 May 2019, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.
investopedia.com/terms/n/nikkei.asp.
8  Lora Jones, David Brown, and Daniele Palumbo, “Coronavirus: A visual guide to the economic impact,”
BBC News, 20 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/business-51706225.
9  “US stock futures sink as Washington struggles over rescue plan: live updates,” The New York Times,
last modified 23 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/22/busi-
ness/stock-market-today-live.html?action=click&module=moreIn&pgtype=Article&region=Footer&ac-
42 THE   COVID-19 HANDBOOK 1253 G. Araneta Avenue, Quezon City, 1104 Philippines • https://www.vibalgroup.com/covid-19/

To counter this, many central banks in the world have resorted to monetary stimulus
programs, slashing their interest rates to spur cheaper borrowing and infuse liquidity
into their national economies.
On 23 March, the US Federal Reserve launched an aggressive plan to protect the
American economy. It bought as many government-backed debts as it sought to keep
US financial markets afloat. This was followed by a program that would give compa-
nies adequate sources of funds. Meanwhile, the US Senate approved the biggest-ever
stabilization package worth more than two trillion US dollars that will aid healthcare,
businesses, and families.10 In the UK, the Bank of England has slashed its interest
rate to 0.25 percent, the lowest level in its history as a response to the effect of the
pandemic.11 Notwithstanding these drastic measures, many economists still warn of
an impending global recession or economic downturn.12
The national responses reflected the growing disparity between richer and devel-
oping nations, with wealthy ones such as Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom,

Figure 2. A graph Airlines most at risk from EU travel ban


indicating the impact of
the COVID-19 pandemic on
Total number of seats on scheduled flights
airline companies. Graph between EU and non-EU countries
modeled after the graphics
of BBC News “Coronavirus: Air France 815,000
A visual guide to the
economic impact,” https:// Luftansa 573,000
www.bbc.com/news/ Emirates 544,000
business-51706225.
KLM 507,000
Wizz Air 468,000
Qatar Airways 372,000
Ryanair 369,000
Turkish Airlines 354,000
Delta Airlines 338,000
Aeroflot 322,000

Note: EU restrictions envisage some skeleton


services may continue to operate

tion=click&module=MoreInSection&pgtype=Article&region=Footer&contentCollection=The%20Corona-
virus%20Outbreak.
10  “Stocks fall despite Fed unleashing new spending power: live update,” The New York Times, 23
March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/business/stock-mar-
ket-today.html?action=click&pgtype=Article&state=default&module=styln-coronavirus-markets&vari-
ant=show&region=MID_MAIN_CONTENT&context=storyline_updates_business#link-14bf2de3.
11  “Coronavirus: UK interest rates cut to lowest level ever,” BBC News, 19 March 2020, accessed 27
March 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/business-51962982.
12  JC Punongbayan, “Why Filipinos need to stay home until June 2020 (or longer),” Rappler, 21 March
2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.rappler.com/thought-leaders/255096-analysis-why-filipi-
nos-need-stay-home-until-june-2020-or-longer.
43 COVID-19 AND GLOBAL SOCIOECONOMIC AND HEALTH ISSUES

discarding their austerity programs in favor of generous infusions of their stimulus


programs that are directed at big and small industries as well as individuals.13

Travel industries are the most affected


As of present, many countries have implemented travel bans, particularly in the worst-
hit pandemic zones. As a result, more and more airlines have cancelled flights and have
cut their workforce to keep afloat. In UAE, Emirates said that they have ceased to fly
for the short term and will cut their workers’ salaries in half. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong,
Cathay Pacific has slashed its passenger capacity by ninety-six percent. On March
29, the Chinese government slashed almost all inbound and outbound air travel. Air
Canada, on the other hand, was forced to lay-off over 5,000 employees temporarily.
In Europe, the biggest airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG will decrease its passenger
capacity by ninety-five percent and will halt the operations of its 700 aircrafts.14 The
European Union, meanwhile, has banned travelers from non-member states for 30
days. The move is expected to affect an estimated 48,000 flights with 10.2 million

Figure 3. A graph presents Chinese industrial production fell by 13.5% in


the tremendous decline the first two months of the year
in Chinese industrial
production caused by the 10%
COVID-19 pandemic. Graph
modeled after the graphics
of BBC News “Coronavirus: 5%
A visual guide to the
economic impact,” https://
www.bbc.com/news/
0%
business-51706225.

-5%

-10%

-15%
Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec Jan-Feb

13  Peter S. Goodman, “Europe’s leaders ditch austerity and fight pandemics with cash,” The New York
Times, 26 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/business/eu-
rope-economy-coronavirus.html.
14  “Global airlines slash flights as travel restrictions multiply,” Aljazeera, 23 March 2020, accessed 27
March 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/global-airlines-slash-flights-travel-restrictions-mul-
tiply-200323020930099.html; “Cathay cuts nearly all flights, Air Canada lays off thousands,” Aljazeera,
20 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/cathay-cuts-flights-
air-canada-lays-thousands-200320062959371.html?utm_source=website&utm_medium=article_
page&utm_campaign=read_more_links.
44 THE   COVID-19 HANDBOOK 1253 G. Araneta Avenue, Quezon City, 1104 Philippines • https://www.vibalgroup.com/covid-19/

seats.15 Replicated in every continent, such temporary scenarios could persist for an
extended period, leading many airlines and its related industries to bankruptcy.

Production in China decreased


China, where COVID-19 was first reported, became the second worst-affected country
in the world after the United States. When the disease became an outbreak, it ordered
the strictest lockdown of many cities, confining people to their homes and only allow-
ing them to buy food or medicine. It also utilized the army and the police, as well as
other draconian measures to monitor its citizens, thus shutting down businesses and
services in the process.
Unfortunately, China is also the second largest economy and is the world’s biggest
manufacturer of many vital products. Many multinational companies rely on China
when it comes to manufacturing of raw materials or parts.16 Therefore, when Chinese
factories were ordered to shut down, the global supply chains have been disrupted.
This situation has eased in the early part of March, when China loosened its policies
and allowed workers to going back after eight weeks of a virtual shutdown. However,

Figure 4. A graph shows Oil is at its lowest price since June 2001
how the price of oil has
plummetted to its lowest level US dollars per barrel
since 2001, brought about
by the COVID-19 pandemic. $150
Graph modeled after the
graphics of BBC News
“Coronavirus: A visual guide $125
to the economic impact,”
https://www.bbc.com/news/
business-51706225. $100

$75

$50

$25
$26.22

$0
2002 2005 2008 2011 2014 2017 2020

15  “Coronavirus: A visual guide to the economic impact.”


16  Bill Conerly, “COVID-19 coronavirus and complex supply chains,” Forbes, 15 February 2020, accessed
27 March 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/billconerly/2020/02/15/covid-19-coronavirus-and-com-
plex-supply-chains/#178f9524538f.
45 COVID-19 AND GLOBAL SOCIOECONOMIC AND HEALTH ISSUES

the country might find it difficult to restart as global demand plunges as other countries
still reel from their own ordeal with COVID-19.17

Figure 5. A graph illustrates The value of gold is now plumeting


how the value of gold has
declined this year amidst $1,700
the COVID-19 pandemic.
Graph modeled after the
graphics of BBC News $1,650
“Coronavirus: A visual guide
to the economic impact,”
https://www.bbc.com/news/
business-51706225. $1,600

$1,550

$1,500

$1,476
$1,450

$1,400
January February March

Prices of oil and gold plummeted


Due to restrictions on movement and travel, the demand for oil hit its lowest price
since 2001. The price of oil has been reduced this year due to the conflict between
Russia and OPEC, an oligopolistic group of oil producers. Falling demand caused by
the pandemic contributed further to the drop in price of crude oil. And as COVID-19
continues to spread to other countries, the price of oil is forecast to decrease even
further.18
Even the price of gold, which is a barometer as a “less risky” investment and re-
garded as a “safe haven” in times of economic crisis, has also been affected. As the
threat of a global recession looms, even the price of gold has slid.19

The global economy will take years to recover


The Organization for Economic and Cooperation and Development (OECD) offered a
grim assessment that several advanced countries may take years to recover from the
economic crisis, with no certainty on when businesses can undertake normal oper-
ations. According to Angel Gurría, the director-general of OECD, a serious pandemic

17  Keith Bradsher, “Halting China’s economy was hard. restarting it is harder.” The New York Times, last
modified 16 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/business/
china-coronavirus-economy.html.
18  “Coronavirus: A visual guide to the economic impact.”
19  Ibid.
46 THE   COVID-19 HANDBOOK 1253 G. Araneta Avenue, Quezon City, 1104 Philippines • https://www.vibalgroup.com/covid-19/

Economic growth (GDP) expected to slow down in 2020


Figure 6. A graph presents
the grim forecast for Growth in 2019 Growth in forecast for 2020
the economic growth in
countries in 2020, expected
China
to be slowed down by
the COVID-19 pandemic.
Graph modeled after the World
graphics of BBC News
“Coronavirus: A visual guide US
to the economic impact,”
https://www.bbc.com/news/ UK
business-51706225.
France

Euro area

Japan

Germany

Italy

0% 1% 2% 3% 4% 5% 6%

could halve the global growth rate20 to 1.5 percent, which is the lowest since the 9/11
terror attack or the 2008 recession.21

The Philippine scenario


In the Philippines, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte declared an enhanced community quarantine
for the whole Luzon area from 16 March to 13 April and placed the entire country un-
der a state of calamity as the nation combated the contagion. Experts predicted that
the worst was yet to come and forecast the outbreak peak by April or June. While the
stringent measures have been followed by many, there are still a greater number of
Filipinos who are not able to abide the quarantine due to their needs. Furthermore,
many businesses, particularly the small-scale ones, are already seriously affected
barely a week after the declaration of a quarantine.
As a response, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has cut interest rates, sus-
pended bank penalties, and allowed increased lending. BSP Governor Benjamin Dio-
kno added that there was no need for “unconventional tools to address the COVID-19
pandemic,” and the programs it implemented would suffice.22
This was in response to the position paper titled “A Philippine Social Protection and
Economic Recovery Plan,” which called for a “liquidity bazooka.” It was authored by UP

20  If the economy is growing, it can generate more jobs. The growth rate is measured through the
gross domestic product (GDP) or the value of services or goods it produced for a year, “Coronavirus: A
visual guide to the pandemic.”
21  Szu Ping Chan, “Global economy will suffer from years to come, says OECD,” BBC News, 23 March
2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52000219.
22  Prinz Magtulis, “BSP rejects ‘unconventional measures’ vs outbreak,” Philippine Star, 22 March
2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.philstar.com/business/2020/03/22/2002770/bsp-re-
jects-unconventional-measures-vs-outbreak.
47 COVID-19 AND GLOBAL SOCIOECONOMIC AND HEALTH ISSUES

economists led by Professor Emeritus Emmanuel de Dios. According to this study, the
measures undertaken by the central bank are not enough due to the sudden demand
suppression, which knocked down the vulnerable sector, especially those who belong
to the informal economy.23 Furthermore, the paper also proposed that the government
should offer a social insurance package that would minimize the economic impact
brought by the outbreak on people, especially on the poorest of the poor, who do not
have safety nets they can tap in times of financial crisis.
By allocating at least 100 to 300 billion pesos for social protection and economic re-
covery programs, the government would be able to protect its most vulnerable citizens,
avert an economic recession, and cushion the effects of COVID-19.24 Among the social
protection measures it suggested was securing supply chains for food and non-food
items, such as medicine and personal hygiene products, and ensuring unhampered
operations of essential services, such as groceries, supermarkets, pharmacies, hospi-
tals, and clinics. Another was the immediate distribution of cash and non-cash support
to poor households. For the economic recovery program, the paper recommended that
small and medium-scale enterprises should be given tax relief and workers should
continue to receive salaries even if they have temporarily ceased to work.25

The Philippines set up


checkpoints around Luzon
as part of the enhanced
community quarantine. People
coming in and going out from
each area are required to
present quarantine passes
and IDs to verify if they can
be allowed entry. Frontliners
also check their tempereature
to ensure that they do not
present COVID-19 symtoms.
Source: Shutterstock.

Government response to COVID-19 in the Philippines


The Department of Health in the Philippines confirmed local transmission of the COV-
ID-19 disease on 7 March 2020. Only a week later, they issued a warning on sustained
community transmission26 with contact tracing for new cases becoming more im-
23  Emmanuel de Dios, et. al., “A Philippine Social Protection and Economic Recovery Plan,” UP School
of Economics, 22 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.econ.upd.edu.ph/dp/index.php/
dp/article/view/1525.
24  Ibid.
25  Ibid.
26  “DOH: Philippines now has sustained COVID-19 community transmission,” GMA Network, 17 March
48 THE   COVID-19 HANDBOOK 1253 G. Araneta Avenue, Quezon City, 1104 Philippines • https://www.vibalgroup.com/covid-19/

possible to detect. Pres. Duterte announced a partial lockdown of Metro Manila on 15


March 2020 which escalated to the National Capital Region (NCR) and the municipality
of Cainta in Rizal being placed under “community quarantine” until 14 April. With the
growing number of COVID-19 cases in Luzon, Pres. Duterte then announced on 16
March that the entire island was to be placed under a partial lockdown, which was
euphemistically called an “enhanced community quarantine.” However, some Philippine
scientists, however, predicted the outbreak could last until June this year.27
Suppression of the viral disease has proven to be more difficult for the country
due to shortage of personal protective equipment (PPEs) for local health workers,
poorly executed social distancing guidelines in various communities, and unintended
mass-gatherings at checkpoints during the quarantine. On 21 March 2020, the Depart-
ment of Health announced that they are expecting 120,500 COVID-19 test kits donated
by different countries to arrive in the Philippines, strengthening the country’s testing
capacity28. The government-enforced suppression programs seem to be the only wise
countermeasures to further spread of the disease.

COVID-19 and its impact on society


Worldwide media has broadcast scenes around the world that seem straight out of
an apocalyptic movie: deserted highways, barricaded roads, uniformed personnel in
hazmat suits milling around a makeshift tent housing the sick, and military staff sin-

The local government of


Antipolo use a firetruck to
spray disinfectant around
the urban residential areas
to reduce transmission
incidences of COVID-19.
Source: Shutterstock.

2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/730026/doh-philip-


pines-now-has-sustained-covid-19-community-transmission/story/.
27 Punongbayan, “Why Filipinos need to stay at home until June.”
28  Kristina Sabillo, “DOH says to speed up COVID-19 testing with more labs, 120,000 test kits,” ABS-
CBN News, 21 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/03/21/20/doh-
says-to-speed-up-covid-19-testing-with-more-labs-120000-test-kits.
49 COVID-19 AND GLOBAL SOCIOECONOMIC AND HEALTH ISSUES

gling out people and vehicles at checkpoints. Words like work-from-home, quaran-
tine, code red, lockdown, N95 mask, social distancing, and coronavirus have become
bywords of a population that is now forced to endure traumatic developments in their
country and across the entire world. This seemingly new normal and alternate reality
is demonstrated by people being compelled to maintain a safe distance of a meter or
more while interacting with others. The afflicted claimed by the disease are given
unceremonious send-offs to the afterlife with funerals banned and families barred
from visiting their loved ones. Healthcare workers begin to crumble both physically
and emotionally under the strain of having to cope with the deluge of the sick and the
fear of contracting the viral disease themselves.
Social events and gatherings have been postponed along with travel plans, busi-
ness conferences, community events, and entrepreneurial activities. Close physical
interactions with families and friends have been put on hold. Schools, offices, and
commercial establishments have been ordered to close and temporarily stop operations.
Entire streets, neighborhoods, villages, cities, ports, and islands have been cordoned
off. All these countermeasures in the guise of fighting a miniscule enemy have had a
gargantuan impact.

A woman getting stressed


by the alarming number of
COVID-19 cases around the
world. Experts report that fear
and anxiety caused by the
coronavirus disease can incite
strong emotions and stress in
adults and children. Source:
Shutterstock.

Risks to mental health


Apart from dealing with the ever looming COVID-19 contagion, individuals and com-
munities have been cut off from the other and may also become more susceptible to
loneliness and stress. The fear and anxiety caused by the coronavirus disease can
incite strong emotions and stress in adults and children. Each individual has different
reactions to stressful situations and ways of coping with it.29
On the other hand, the community quarantine can also give people an opportunity
to be closer to their families and their community. Helping ourselves and others cope

29  “Stress and Coping,” US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25 March 2020,
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html?CDC_AA_
refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fabout%2Fcoping.html.
50 THE   COVID-19 HANDBOOK 1253 G. Araneta Avenue, Quezon City, 1104 Philippines • https://www.vibalgroup.com/covid-19/

with anxiety and stress is a vital factor in making a community stronger. According to
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people can make the outbreak
less stressful by: (1) taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories
because constantly being bombarded by the pandemic could be upsetting; (2) taking
care of the body by exercising, eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, and avoiding
alcohol and drugs; (3) doing activities that you enjoy; and (4) connecting virtually with
people you trust and care for.30
Social distancing and proper hygiene are best practices to prevent the disease from
entering our body. However, we should make extra efforts to maintain our mental
well-being in order to continue to cope with unbearable hardship and sacrifices.

Long-standing societal problems


The COVID-19 pandemic has also unearthed prevailing societal problems, especially
Social distancing is now
the issues related to poverty and inequity. In the Philippines, the community quarantine
being implemented in
supermarkets, drugstores, has amplified the clamor for help among daily-wage earners, blue-collar workers and
and other commercial spaces laborers, the homeless, and poverty-stricken neighborhoods. For them, the outbreak
offering essential supplies is not just a battle against the disease. It is about their survival from day to day in the
to quarantined residents.
Source: Shutterstock. absence of any means for them to continue making a living.
While most are stuck at their homes, some have chosen to make use of the situation
to give back and help. Many Filipinos are used to lending a hand to the needy. Some
have raised funds to help the impoverished and the frontliners. Some also volunteered
their skills to contribute to information campaigns on COVID-19.31 Retired medical
practitioners also returned to hospitals, stepping up to fight COVID-19 and increase
hospital manpower.32
One of the major global problems is the ongoing armed conflicts around the world. As
more nations followed lockdown and community quarantine, the government deployed
the military to monitor access points of city and provincial boundaries. To focus on
the COVID-19 outbreak, Pres. Duterte also declared a ceasefire, ordering government
forces to stop operations against armed communist rebels, effective 19 March to 15
April 2020.33 Worldwide, the United Nations also urged an immediate ceasefire in
conflicts around the world to tackle the new coronavirus pandemic. In a statement,
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the world faces “a common ene-
my—COVID-19” which doesn’t care “about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith.”34

A helping hand from businesses and other governments


In times of tragedy, humankind’s innate propensity to help, unite, and render selfless
acts do emerge. China has been rolling out aid to various parts of the world continu-
30  Ibid.
31  Tristan Zinampan, “Volunteer your skills during the lockdown through these initiatives,” Rappler, 18
March 2020, https://www.rappler.com/move-ph/254945-volunteer-skills-donation-drive-coronavirus.
32  Kathless Doheny, “COVID-19 and Kindness,” WebMD, 20 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020,
https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200320/covid-19-kindness-caremongering-is-trending.
33  Elmor Santos, “Duterte declares unilateral ceasefire with CPP-NPA to focus on COVID-19 fight,” CNN
Philippines, 18 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2020/3/18/
duterte-cpp-npa-ceasefire-covid-19.html.
34  The Associated Press. “UN Chief Urges Immediate Global Cease-Fire to Fight COVID-19,” The New
York Times, 23 March 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/03/23/world/ap-un-virus-out-
break-un-cease-fire.html?searchResultPosition=1.
51 COVID-19 AND GLOBAL SOCIOECONOMIC AND HEALTH ISSUES

ously, also sharing strategies on how they were able to rein in the spread of infection.
In the Philippines, at least two recent shipments have been made, including 100,000
testing kits which the county is in dire need of.
Canada for its part vowed to spend millions to help the world’s poor amidst the pan-
demic35, while the United Nations has been working non-stop to ensure humanitarian
aid for poor countries.36 Donation drives continue to come in left and right, with dif-
ferent organizations seeking ways to send help to the hard hit areas of the pandemic.
In the Philippines, while the LGUs come up with their own “creative” ways to roll
out relief operations for locked down cities, the nation’s largest corporations have also
devised a project to fund relief initatives.
“Project Ugnayan” is a joint venture of the country’s biggestt conglomerates, among
them the Aboitiz Group, ABS-CBN/Lopez Group, Alliance Global/Megaworld, AY Foun-
dation and RCBC, Ayala Corporation, Caritas Manila, Century Pacific, Concepcion In-
dustrial Corp, DMCI, ICTSI, Jollibee, Leonio Group, Metrobank/GT Capital, Nutri-Asia,
Oishi/Liwayway Marketing Group PDRF, PLDT/Metro Pacific Investments Corporation,
Robinsons/Gokongwei Group, Puregold, San Miguel Corporation, SM/BDO, and Suyen
Corp.37
Over 51.5 billion in funds will be used to distribute grocery vouchers worth 51,000
to urban poor residents in Mega Manila. The noble venture is in partnership with
the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF), and will aim to benefit over a
million households in the metro.  The vouchers can be used to purchase food items
from groceries and supermarkets. The project has been initiated in four pilot areas,
in collaboration with Caritas Manila’s Project Damayan and ABS CBN’s Pantawid ng
Pag-ibig program.
Aside from relief distribution, the big businesses are also showing their humane side
by extending pay for employees who are presently on forced leave due to the enhanced
community quarantine. SM Supermalls has assured their employees of regular com-
pensation despite going on vacation or sickleave, while their frontliners get premium
pay for serving customers during the lockdown. The mall chain also volunteered to
waive rental fees for tenants who have been affected by the closure order during the
Luzon-wide quarantine.38
Other notable efforts from the private sector: 39
• The Jollibee Group under billionaire Tony Tan Caktiong donated food products worth
5100 million for health workers and other frontliners.
35  Mike Blanchfield, “Canada to spend millions to help world’s poor amid COVID-19 pandemic: minis-
ter,” GlobalNews.CA, 25 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://globalnews.ca/news/6728980/
coronavirus-humanitarian-aid-canada/.
36  “UN aid teams work round the clock amid COVID-19 pandemic to ensure humanitarian support to
millions, United Nations News, 20 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://news.un.org/en/sto-
ry/2020/03/1059862.
37  Yvette Fernandez, “Big business donates P1.5 billion to help feed urban poor: Project Ugnayan,”
Esquire, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.esquiremag.ph/money/industry/-project-ugnayan-big-
business-donates-p1-5-billion-to-help-feed-urban-poor-a2325-20200322.
38  “SM assures employees of pay, frontline staff get premium,” ABS-CBN News, 20 March 2020, ac-
cessed 27 March 2020, https://news.abs-cbn.com/business/03/20/20/sm-assures-employees-of-pay-
frontline-staff-get-premium.
39  “More businesses pitch in with donations, test kits for COVID-19 response,” CNN Philippines, 17
March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://cnnphilippines.com/business/2020/3/17/sm-donation-
to-ritm-pgh.html.
52 THE   COVID-19 HANDBOOK 1253 G. Araneta Avenue, Quezon City, 1104 Philippines • https://www.vibalgroup.com/covid-19/

• Udenna Group under presidential ally Dennis Uy turned over 1,000 COVID-19 test
kits to the Department of Health (DOH)
• Vista Land under Manny Villar donated 200,000 face masks and a daily supply of
bottled water to nine public hospitals in NCR
• Alibaba founder and Chinese billionaire Jack Ma pledged a donation of 500,000
face masks to the Philippines
• Aboitiz Group turned over 5,700 N-95 masks to DOH for health and security work-
ers, apart from medical supplies such as surgical gloves, thermometers, folding beds,
laboratory goggles, and tents.
• Metrobank and GT Capital Holdings Group of the Ty family pledged 5200 million to
respond to the health crisis, mainly for the production of more coronavirus test kits
by the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health 
• The Gokongwei Brothers Foundation led by the heirs of the late taipan John Gokong-
wei, Jr. pledged a 5100-million fund to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, which will
be spent on additional protective gear of health workers and rapid test kits produced
by scientists from UP. 
• Businessman Manny Pangilinan through Metro Pacific Hospitals deployed frontline
workers to needed areas and have been importing additional protective gear for their
use. Some 4,000 liters of alcohol have also been donated for government hospitals.
• The Araneta Group donated UP-made COVID-19 test kits to the Quezon City Gov-
ernment through the J. Amado Araneta Foundation.
• San Miguel Corporation produced ethyl alcohol in its liquor plant, which is under
regulatory approval for public use. The diversified conglomerate said it has started
to distribute rubbing alcohol for free to hospitals and local government units. SMC
has also revived the production of the Nutribun, or vitamin-packed bread popular
originally distributed for feeding programs in the 1970s, to donate to Caritas Manila
for distribution to communities.
• Tycoon Andrew Tan and the Alliance Global Group also pledged 1 million liters of
70 percent ethyl alcohol to the Department of Health, the police, military, and local
government units.
• Ayala-owned GCash launched an online donation drive for hospitals and frontline
health workers. Using the e-wallet app, users can choose to donate money which
will be evenly divided to its partners: the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation,
the Philippine Red Cross, World Vision, UP Medical Foundation, PGH Foundation, Inc.,
ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, and Ayala Foundation.
• Cosmetic surgery firm Belo Medical Group led by its CEO Vicki Belo donated its
remaining stocks of PPE in its clinics for the use of hospitals and health centers in
need and will continue to donate once additional supplies arrive.

Government responses in different parts of the world


At a media briefing held on 11 March 2020, the WHO Director-General proclaimed the
COVID-19 outbreak as a global “pandemic”— the first caused by a coronavirus40. A call
for collective action was deemed necessary by the organization, prompting govern-

40  “WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 11 March 2020,”
World Health Organization, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-
director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---11-march-2020.
53 COVID-19 and Global Socioeconomic and Health Issues

Frontliners, such as these


Iranian ambulance staff,
have been hailed all over the
world for their courage and
heroism in treating patients
with COVID-19. Source:
Shutterstock.

ments and international agencies around the world to do their part in implementing
emergency response mechanisms. With the alarming rise of case numbers around
the world, social distancing is being strictly implemented, mass testing is encouraged;
schools, offices, and establishments are being closed down—every country is forced
to choose their strategies to remedy the global health crisis.
A month before the proclamation of a global pandemic, the United States discov-
ered its first ever case in Chicago. Currently, the US has surpassed China as having
the most number of confirmed cases of over 85,000 confirmed cases.41 Tragically,
a study of the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services in
2019, however, had previously warned of the incapability of the US to fully protect
itself from a large-scale epidemic much like that started by the novel coronavirus42.
A faulty test kit distributed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
has further slowed down efforts to control the outbreak in the American continent.43
Following Pres. Donald Trump’s acknowledgement of the spread of the COVID-19
disease as a matter of national concern and the US government’s declaration of a pub-
lic health emergency, orders for stay-at-home lockdowns, travel restrictions, school
closures, cancellation of events and large gatherings are being executed throughout
different states. Several of the hardest hit states have been New York, Washington,
New Jersey, and Louisiana.44
On 13 March 2020, the WHO proclaimed Europe as the epicenter of the pandemic
with the most reported cases and deaths outside China. The European Union then

41  “Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases,” Johns Hopkins University and Medicine, 27 March 2020,
https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html, accessed 27 March 2020.
42  David Sanger et al., “Before Virus Outbreak, a Cascade of Warnings Went Unheeded,” The New York
Times, 19 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/us/politics/
trump-coronavirus-outbreak.html.
43  John Cohen, “The United States badly bungled coronavirus testing—but things may soon improve,”
Science, 28 February 2020, accessed 27 March 2020 https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/02/unit-
ed-states-badly-bungled-coronavirus-testing-things-may-soon-improve.
44  “Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases.”
54 THE   COVID-19 HANDBOOK 1253 G. Araneta Avenue, Quezon City, 1104 Philippines • https://www.vibalgroup.com/covid-19/

announced “a 30-day restriction on non-essential travel” in 26 of its nations.45 With


Europe closing off its borders, other member countries followed with nationwide
lockdowns including Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Belgium, and more. Much like other
nations, European nations have shut down schools, prohibited gatherings involving
more than 100 people, and advised self-isolation at home. On the other hand, the Brit-
ish government ordered 1.4 million of its people who have serious health problems to
self-quarantine for 12 weeks.
On 17 March 2020, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the Regional Director of WHO
Southeast Asia region, urged more aggressive action in preventing further spread of
the deadly disease across the region46—with the individual case numbers of several
Southeast Asian nations nearing the 500-mark during that time. As a response, most
SEA countries have imposed travel bans and restricted foreign or local travel including
Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. In the South Asian region,
India ordered a three-week sudden lockdown on 24 March 2020, even though it had
recorded only 469 active cases of COVID-19 out of a population of over 1.3 billion,
representing a fifth of humanity.47

From horizontal to vertical interdiction—a probable solution


Nations across the globe have closed their borders. Southeast Asia is currently facing
a growth in COVID-19 case numbers. Europe has been declared the epicentre of the
pandemic and the United States is already experiencing a public health crisis sur-
passing the magnitude of China’s. Yet, some countries have achieved some success
in flattening the curve of new infections. From the unprecedented Wuhan outbreak,
to thousands of active cases and deaths in the last two months, mainland China has
recently reported no new locally transmitted infections after implementing strict social
distancing measures.
On the other hand, the Republic of South Korea has seen a significant drop in their
case numbers even without China’s “draconian” measures such as large-scale lock-
downs, which have also been implemented in Europe and the US48. Instead of impeding
everyday economic activities, South Korea has instead put up massive mass-testing
programs, completing by 16 March 2020 more than 270,000 tests49. Isolating and con-
tact tracing of all known and previously undocumented cases were strictly followed.
Although mass testing, self-isolation, and extensive lockdowns have been proven ef-

45  Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Richard Perez-Peña, “Europe Barricades Borders to Slow Coronavirus,”
The New York Times, 17 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/
world/europe/EU-closes-borders-virus.html.
46  “WHO calls for urgent, aggressive actions to combat COVID-19, as cases soar in South-East Asia
Region,” World Health Organization, 17 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.who.int/
southeastasia/news/detail/17-03-2020-who-calls-for-urgent-aggressive-actions-to-combat-covid-19-
as-cases-soar-in-south-east-asia-region.
47  Alex Ward, “India’s coronavirus lockdown and its looming crisis, explained,” Vox, 24 March 2020,
accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/3/24/21190868/coronavirus-india-modi-lock-
down-kashmir.
48  Max Fisher and Choe, Sang-hun. “How South Korea Flattened the Curve,” The New York Times,
23 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/world/asia/coronavi-
rus-south-korea-flatten-curve.html.
49  Dennis Normille, “Coronavirus cases have dropped sharply in South Korea. What’s the secret
to its success?,” Science, 17 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.sciencemag.org/
news/2020/03/coronavirus-cases-have-dropped-sharply-south-korea-whats-secret-its-success.
55 COVID-19 and Global Socioeconomic and Health Issues

fective, how can viral transmission be halted without causing an economic collapse,
especially for nations who are underfunded and unprepared for a disaster such as
this one?
Dr. David L. Katz of Yale University suggests a “vertical interdiction strategy” as
opposed to a horizontal approach to the problem. In other words, implement quick
isolation for two weeks in communities experiencing an outbreak while letting other
unaffected communities’ function.
The lockdown in the Philippines is also vertical in that only Luzon has been closed
down, with other local government units in Visayas and Mindanao presented with an
option to follow suit if they saw it fit. The concept of a 14-day total shutdown instead of
gradually restricted actions also seem to be a sensible approach to this epidemic. But
in doing so, Dr. Katz reminds us of three important goals—saving lives, maintaining a
functionable health care system, and “making sure that in the process of achieving the
first two goals we don’t destroy our economy, and as a result of that, even more lives.”50
It has been a number of weeks since countries all over the world have initiated
lockdowns and shut down “non-essential” businesses. However, depending on where
one resides, this may either be a temporary inconvenience or a major life-changing
event. In some countries like Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands, workers will
have 90 percent of lost wages covered.51 In most developing countries, locals are not
provided the same safety nets. The Philippine government is being heavily criticized
for this reason. The 14-day lockdown of Luzon has been labeled “anti-poor,” with daily
wage workers out of work and unable to rely on the national government for support.

Empty shelves and sections


in a supermarket (such as
this one in Madrid, Spain)
has become a common
occurrence around the world,
brought about by the panic
and fear of lockdowns caused
by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Source: Shutterstock.

50  Thomas Friedman, “A plan to get America back to work,” The New York Times, 22 March 2020,
accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/22/opinion/coronavirus-economy.html.
51  Matt Apuzzo and Monika Pronczuk, “Covid-19’s economic pain is universal. but relief? Depends on
where you live,” The New York Times, 23 March 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/world/eu-
rope/coronavirus-economic-relief-wages.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Home-
page.
56 THE   COVID-19 HANDBOOK 1253 G. Araneta Avenue, Quezon City, 1104 Philippines • https://www.vibalgroup.com/covid-19/

Although everyone is faced with the same dilemma, it is a sad reality that not everyone
is equipped to survive the crisis without suffering tremendous losses.

Lessons from Wuhan


After two months of battling the coronavirus, the people of the city of Wuhan in China
finally took off their face masks and appreciated their newly recovered freedom. The
ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak declared zero new cases on 19 March 2020.52
Wuhan, though, remains on lockdown to keep the virus from returning to the healing
city. Now that the rest of the world is currently the new battlefield of the contagion, it
is vital to look back and understand how Wuhan dealt with the viral foe.

Harsh but effective approach


Many have criticized the way the Chinese government contained the disease in Wuhan.
To halt further transmission outside of Wuhan, the Chinese government mandated
its lockdown on 23 January 2020 together with other major cities in the province of
Hubei.53
Initially, the residents were still allowed to go out of their houses; but as days went
by, the lockdown tightened. In some areas, going out to buy necessities was limited to
one family member every two days. The residents were also restricted from leaving the
city. Public transportation was put to a halt, giving no exception even for personal and
The Chinese government
medical emergencies. Private vehicles without special permission were also barred
promptly instituted quarantine from the roads. For the entire duration of the lockdown, the busy roads became quiet
of patients with COVID-19 and empty.
symptoms in Wuhan, as a part
Establishments were also shut except for those selling food and medicines. Drug-
of its lockdown measures.
Source: Shutterstock. stores were strictly monitored by authorities. Later on, the lockdown became more
aggressive. Health officials even went door-to-door to monitor and force anyone ill
into isolation.54
It was the first time that a quarantine of this scale had been implemented in the
modern world. Some had taken the policy with a grain of salt. Skeptics expressed that
such measures were unnecessary, and that the government should have focused on
mass testing, strict implementation of social distancing, and identifying those who
needed to be isolated. However, it is also noteworthy that on the early onset of the
outbreak, there were no reliable and fast testing kits to screen the masses. They only
depended on laboratory nucleic acid sequencing analysis, which was a tedious and
costly process. The only way to manage the spread of the disease and save more lives
was to limit the movement of its carriers.
The National Medical Products Administration of China took immediate action to
hasten the production of detection kits. The first test kit in China was introduced on

52  “Update: China’s Wuhan reports zero increase in novel coronavirus infections,” Xinhua, 19 March
2020, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-03/19/c_138894272.htm, accessed 27 March 2020.
53  “China coronavirus: Lockdown measures rise across Hubei province,” BBC, 23 January 2020, ac-
cessed 27 March 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-asia-china-51217455.
54  Pien Huang and Huo Jingnan, “Life In lockdown: from shock to panic to ... acceptance,” NPR, 18 March
2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/03/18/815585991/
life-in-lockdown-from-shock-to-panic-to-acceptance; Emma Graham-Harrison and Lily Kuo, “China’s
coronavirus lockdown strategy: brutal but effective,” 19 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://
amp.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/19/chinas-coronavirus-lockdown-strategy-brutal-but-effective.
57 COVID-19 and Global Socioeconomic and Health Issues

23 January, the same day that Hubei was put under lockdown. Two weeks later, bio-
tech companies in China manufactured a sufficient supply to accommodate the testing
needs of the hardest-hit areas, especially Wuhan.55

Modern problem, modern solutions


As the number of COVID-19 cases ballooned in Wuhan, the demand for hospital beds to
isolate thousands of patients, also became a major problem in the outbreak epicenter.
This pushed the officials to put up a makeshift hospital to house infected individuals.
Thousands worked day and night to complete the coronavirus hospital in ten days.
The Chinese state media reported that the design features of makeshift hospitals built
during the SARS outbreak in 2003 were used. The new hospital was designed in such
a way that patients were categorized based on the severity of the infection and the
risk they posed.56
Technology also played an important role in combating the virus. The outbreak has
tested China’s technology industry and how well people can utilize these advancements
during catastrophic events such as public health crises. In hospitals, nurses roamed
to check on patients and to deliver medicines. To reduce the risk among medical staff,
hospitals replaced nurses with robots to deliver medicines to patients.57
Another hardware that provided multiple applications were drones. Heavy-duty
drones were deployed in the cities for disinfection of public spaces. There were also
drones mounted with thermal cameras to widen and improve the detection of suspected
COVID-19 patients. Some drones equipped with facial recognition were also flown to
fight crimes and to monitor movement of the citizens. These efforts also tested the
ethical boundaries of using such aerial surveillance technologies. Such collective
initiatives seem to have paid off for Wuhan and were even being held as models to be
replicated by other nations.

Lessons from Italy


The Italian healthcare system has been regarded as one of the best among developed
countries in the Western world. Its efficient structure largely depends on the shared
authority between the central government and the 20 Italian regional governments,
which oversee health services, provisions, and source appropriation58. In previous
years, academic journals have commended this constitutionally tacit relationship for
ostensibly improving and maintaining the health status of Italians. However, everything

55  Xifeng Wu et al., “6 lessons from China’s Zhejiang Province and Hangzhou on how countries can
prevent and rebound from an epidemic like COVID-19,” World Economic Forum, 12 March 2020, https://
www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/coronavirus-covid-19-hangzhou-zhejiang-government-response/,
From top: Temperature accessed 27 March 2020.
scanning of flight passengers 56  “Oscar Holland and Alexandra Lin,” How to design a hospital that’s built in days, by someone who’s
in airports, deployment of done it before,” CNN, 8 February 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/02/07/
robots in hospitals, and asia/wuhan-coronavirus-hospital-design-intl-hnk/index.html; “Wuhan to follow Beijing’s SARS treat-
utilization of heavy-duty ment model in new coronavirus control,” Xinhua, 24 January 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, http://
drones to disinfect public en.people.cn/n3/2020/0124/c90000-9651671.html, accessed 27 March 2020.
spaces in the city—were 57  Sarah O’Meara, “Coronavirus: Hospital ward staffed entirely by robots opens in China,” New Scien-
some of the technologies tist, 9 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2236777-coronavi-
used during the outbreak in rus-hospital-ward-staffed-entirely-by-robots-opens-in-china/.
Wuhan. Source: Shutterstock. 58  George France, Francesco Taroni, and Andrea Donatini, “The Italian health-care system,” Health
Economics, 14 September 2005, accessed 25 March 2020, https://doi.org/10.1002/hec.1035.
58 THE   COVID-19 HANDBOOK 1253 G. Araneta Avenue, Quezon City, 1104 Philippines • https://www.vibalgroup.com/covid-19/

ITALY’S RED ZONES

Map of Italy highlighting the


"red zones," or the worst Treviso
affected regions of the LOMBARDY
country. Graphic modeled Milan Padua Venice
after the graphics of Daily Turin Asti Piacenza
Mail “Australian au pair Parma Regglo Emilia
Alessandria
who was caught in Italy’s Modena
Genoa
coronavirus ‘red zone’ reveals
Aimini
how her trip of a lifetime
turned into a nightmare Florence Urbino Pesaro
- before she fled over the
border to Switzerland,”
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/
news/article-8094627/amp/
Australian-woman-caught-
Italys-coronavirus-red-zone-
reveals-escaped.html. Rome

Bari
Naples

Cagliari

Palermo
changed in the span of three weeks from late February to early March 2020. Italy’s
Gatania
healthcare system was suddenly crippled by an unseen enemy: COVID-19.59
Why did a country like Italy with a fully prepared and world-class healthcare system
end up as such? What early measures did the Italian government take to fight the
contagion many countries had already warned about? What mistakes did its officials
commit for this health crisis to turn for the worse?

Italy: COVID-19 epicenter


The symptoms of COVID-19 can be easily attributed to ordinary severe flu. On 18 Feb-
ruary 2020, a 38-year-old unsuspecting man went to a local hospital in Codogno in
the northern Lombardy region of Italy. As he was only manifesting flu symptoms, the
hospital released him hours later. But when the same man was rushed back into the
intensive care unit and tested positive for the virus on the same day, people started to
ask questions: How did the patient contract the virus having no travel history to China?60

59  Jason Horowitz, “Italy’s health care system groans under coronavirus— a warning to the world,” The
New York Times, 12 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://nyti.ms/3cQroLw.
60  Jason Horowitz, Emma Bubola, and Elisabetta Povoledo, “Italy, pandemic’s new epicenter, has
lessons for the world,” The New York Times, 21 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://nyti.
ms/3bcTDCz.
59 COVID-19 and Global Socioeconomic and Health Issues

That same week, two more Italians who recently traveled to China were also diag-
nosed with the virus.61 In the succeeding weeks, the number of cases in Italy multiplied
a thousand-fold. A month later, the country had already surpassed China’s total death
toll by more than half, becoming the new epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of
27 March 2020, Italy reported 80,589 confirmed cases, with the increasing death toll
reaching 8,215, surpassing that of China.62

Italy’s draconian strategies and blunders


According to media and health experts, partly to blame for Italy’s woeful handling of
the outbreak was the horizontal interdiction belatedly implemented by the central
government in the affected regions. This strategy relied on draconian policies blindly
imposed on an entire population, with complete disregard for other factors such as
the population segments that are most vulnerable to illnesses. Rather than swiftly
executing this to abate the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the country, the Italian
central government chose to feed the people a false sense of normalcy and urged them
to carry on with their daily lives. But when the cases surged into the local hospitals
in northern Italy, the draconian measures already came too late. “Infodemic” or mixed
messages from central government officials also had flummoxed the Italians on what
was really happening in the country. This then forced local officials like the regional
president of Lombardy, Attilio Fontana, to make tough decisions on his own.
The northern area of the Lombardy region was the first to be forced into lockdown.
Along with the confirmed community transmission, this area also recorded almost half
of the nationwide count of positive cases and two-thirds of the official death count.63
Later on, the remaining towns in southern Lombardy, including its main city Milan,
were placed under lockdown. On 10 March 2020, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe
Conte addressed the public and expanded the regional quarantine into a nationwide
lockdown. He pledged that aside from the $28 billion allotted for relief package, the
government would also provide economic assistance amounting $8.5 billion to prevent
the country from sliding into recession.64

The overlooked factors


Although Italy was indeed the first Western country to enforce such measures in
handling the domestic outbreak, there may be little positive evidence that they are
effective.65 The country has not performed enough viral testing for its population of
60,485,231, and as of 23 March 2020, it had only conducted around 230,000 tests.

61  Graziano Onder, Giovanni Rezza, and Silvio Brusaferro, “Case-fatality rate and characteristics of
patients dying in relation to COVID-19 in Italy,” JAMA (23 March 2020), accessed 27 March 2020, https://
doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.4683.
62  “Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases.”
63  Ferdinando Giugliano, “The lessons from Italy’s COVID-19 mistakes,” Bloomberg, 23 March 2020,
accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-03-23/italy-s-covide-19-
trial-and-error-and-lessons-for-france-and-u-k.
64  Silvia Amaro, “Italy vows to implement ‘a massive shock therapy’ against the coronavirus,” CNBC,
9 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/09/italy-wants-more-public-
spending-to-fight-coronavirus-amid-lockdown.html.
65  David L. Katz, “Is our fight against the coronavirus worse than the disease?” The New York Times,
20 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://nyti.ms/2J1v53h.
60 THE   COVID-19 HANDBOOK 1253 G. Araneta Avenue, Quezon City, 1104 Philippines • https://www.vibalgroup.com/covid-19/

Italy’s healthcare facilities


have been overwhelmed
with the deluge of COVID-19
patients seeking treatment,
forcing authorities to put
up makeshift field hospitals
just as this one in Florence.
Source: Shutterstock.

This is way behind in comparison with the estimated 340,000 tests conducted by the
South Korean government in mass-testing centers and drive-through clinics66.
Also, the transmission trend revealed that COVID-19 tended to target immunocom-
promised and elderly people. Based on statistics, the relative risk of virus contractions
among older age groups is critically high. Italy has an aging population, and the mean
of its demographic age is around 45 years old. Like other family cultures, Italians of
many generations tend to live under one roof, making the possibility of viral trans-
mission within households even higher since the implementation of the containment
policies. This then implied that the elderly may not be even safe in their own homes.
Currently, the Italian government has yet to release guidelines on such situations. As
of 23 March 2020, the median age of COVID-19 deaths in Italy has been set around
80 years old, and patients over 90 years old have a very high fatality rate of 22.7%.
However, it may be said that Italy, as of writing, is not anymore at the peak of the
outbreak. The horizontal interdiction is what mainly burdened the country’s medical
system. But even though local hospitals are still struggling to house patients with criti-
cal symptoms and hundreds of healthcare professionals have fallen victim to COVID-19,
they are all holding up and getting by. Italian hospitals and regional presidents have
now already created improvised ICUs and distributed what little medical supplies and
staff they have to more vulnerable areas.67
And even though the death count in the country continues to climb, the number of
new cases has recently dropped to only 4,789 last 23 March 2020, compared to the
recorded 5,560 cases in 22 March 2020.68 If these figures continue to drop, there is
indeed hope for Italy, and the rest of the world in battling this global scourge.

66  Max Fisher and Choe Sang-Hun, “How South Korea flattened the curve,” The New York Times, 23
March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://nyti.ms/3aeD35C.
67  Denise Chow and Emmanuelle Saliba, “Italy has a world-class health system; the coronavirus has
pushed it to the breaking point,” NBC News, 18 March 2020, accessed 27 March 2020, https://www.nbc-
news.com/health-news/italy-has-world-class-health-system-coronavirus-has-pushed-it-n1162786.
68  Frances D’Emilio, “Italy records smaller increase in virus cases for 2nd day,” The Associated Press,
24 March 2020, accessed 25 March 2020, https://apnews.com/a69c921eb603e6a85fd5c2c490d66a9.

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