Philippines: Policy responses and government science advice for the COVID 19 pandemic in the Philippines: January to April 2020


In this paper we examine two policy questions about the COVID 19 pandemic in the Philippines. These are science informed policy questions that will have to take into consideration a large degree of uncertainties in outcomes. The first question is on when to lift the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) as informed by epidemiological modelling. The second deals on how the Philippines can respond to a future pandemic crisis. We review the Philippine government's responses and introduce the complicating scientific, social, and political contexts for both questions and address proposals for strengthening the science advisory structures. We propose a permanent science advisory body for emergencies with the widest source of expertise as needed.

1. Introduction

Since the WHO declared the COVID 19 as a pandemic on March 11, 2020, the global science community has demonstrated that science can respond quickly with advanced techniques, technologies and the immediate dissemination of research results in a largely transparent and focused science research effort. For example it is no surprise that the SARS COV 19 viral genome was made public within two weeks [1]. Rapid communication and publication has allowed the global public to cognize the seriousness of COVID 19.

This is due to the increased capability of the data sciences to model epidemic trajectories [2,3] and to show the statistical models as probability distributions a.k.a. curves. Filipino data scientists initially did this as citizen scientists with the aim of providing the initial basis for policy decisions [4]. Their efforts have made one phrase that has entered the Filipino's lexicon, “flattening the curve” [5,6]. These efforts while it has resulted in a positive outcome in suppressing COVID 19 infections reveal gaps in the channeling of science advice to government especially in crisis and the need for a more coordinated science policy structure for emergencies.

While COVID 19 can be considered a “black swan” event with its low probability of occurrence but with a high impact [7], this is disputed since SARS in 2002, a coronavirus outbreak was deemed very possible [8] but with very uncertain consequences. The history of the COVID 19 pandemic has been reviewed as of March 2020 and details the responses of the WHO and national health ministries worldwide [9,10]. The international response is more transparent and coordinated than in previous WHO declared pandemics. Even then the control of COVID 19 is full of uncertainties even if curves can be flattened and because it involves many factors and players as evidenced by research gaps [11]. And the uncertainties are magnified in a post truth world with misinformation on COVID 19 taking on infectious behavior similar to the virus itself [12].

Read the full paper at Elsevier Science Direct