Quimbo: Info failure is why PH lags behind in COVID pandemic management

FAILURE to provide accurate information from data collection and analysis to timely mass communication is why the Philippines isn’t doing too well in COVID-19 management, according to Marikina Congresswoman and economist Stella Quimbo.

Speaking at the Kaya Pala (It Can Be Done) webinar, Quimbo cited eight examples of information management failures that have caused the Philippines to lag behind its ASEAN neighbors.

First, the ability to compare data points from the new format of daily COVID updates of the Department of Health (DOH) has been reduced.

“Due to delays in reporting, total cases would sometimes spike causing panic among the public,” added the Liberal Party legislator.

These delays make it difficult to know whether the number of new cases is truly low or simply delayed reporting have just piled up old cases.

“Second, in July, the DOH reported that our case doubling time has lengthened to 8.2 days from 5.5 days in May, and therefore the Philippines could now afford to ease restrictions on movement… If the case doubling time was indeed 8 days, they should not have triggered the lifting of strict lockdowns,” Quimbo said.

For the economics professor, what should be adapted is a system where lockdown levels are automatically triggered by the number of cases or other epidemiological measures.

The remaining six examples are as follows:

1. The number of available hospital beds is primarily reported on a national level which masks huge disparities at the sub-national level.

2. The positivity rate is only reported cumulatively. That means all positive cases divided by all tests conducted. This masks important variations over time.

5. Contact tracing begins with complete reporting of basic information including the place of residence of the COVID-positive individual. This is based on the success in Baguio City but this standard is not consistently met at the national level.

6. It is impossible to do proper contact tracing manually yet no standard contact tracing app has been adopted.

7. Overall there is a lack of clarity on lockdowns. The complex set of acronyms GCQ, ECQ, MGCQ, and MECQ should have been replaced with the more easily understandable intensity-numbered system used for typhoons.

8. The lack of a national ID system makes the tracing COVID positives or the distribution of social amelioration funds extremely difficult.

“All of these information failures are borne out of weaknesses in government structures that have been there for so long but which we have failed to address. And certainly, this pandemic is a wake-up call,” Quimbo said.

Aside from these examples, she also pointed out three reforms the government must undertake:

1. DOH must improve its in-house capacity to collect, encode, store, analyze, report, and communicate data.

2. Implement digital transformation in government. “We need government to shift to digital platforms including for payments or provisions under social protection programs, monitoring of government programs and regulatory processes for businesses,” she said.

3. Mechanisms to promote inter-local coordination needs to be adopted.

For Quimbo, the academe also plays an important role to fill in the gap when the government performs below-par with respect to information management.

“In the end, we all must come together to realize that both the fights against the pandemic and the infodemic is to be shared by all sectors of society,” Quimbo said.

Hosted by the Council of Asian Liberals (CALD) and Democrats in cooperation with the Center for Liberalism and Democracy (CLD) and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), Kaya Pala! was a webinar that discussed how Taiwan was able to contain the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and disinformation.

During the webinar, Taiwan Digital Minister Audrey Tang discussed the Taiwan Model of Free, Fair, and Fun social innovation through partnerships among the private sector, civil society, tech firms, and the governments.

Members of the panel also included PhilStar editor-in-chief Camille Diola and Batanes Doctor to the Barrios Noel Bernardo.

Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, who is CALD chairperson, delivered the closing remarks.

The webinar was held last December 11 and may still be viewed via this link: https://www.facebook.com/officialkikopangilinan/videos/866574827450501