Tell it to SunStar: Between health security and foreign relations

ONE of the alarming issues facing the world and our country is the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that was first detected in Wuhan, China. Rapidly rising caseloads scare researchers, considering the epidemic has become a global outbreak due to the fast-moving nature of the virus. Most often, spread from person to person happens among close contact of about six feet. Person-to-person spread occurs when an infected person coughs or sneezes and approximately 14 people can be infected by this virus, with which it is transmitted. Over the past three weeks, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases has risen from around 50 in China to more than 17,000 in at least 23 counties.

Filipinos expressed their fears at the reluctance of the Philippine government to ban travel to and from mainland China. This, after the health department confirmed the first case of novel coronavirus. The Department of Health announced that a 38-year-old female Chinese national who traveled to the Philippines from Wuhan via Hong Kong tested positive for the virus as she arrived in the country on Jan. 21.

When the story about the 2019-nCoV broke, countries saw it as a security health threat. Countries like the US, Singapore and Russia, one of China’s long-standing allies, immediately banned flights or travelers coming from China.

Contrary to those aforementioned countries, the Philippines only banned non-Filipino travelers from China last Feb. 2. With this, we cannot deny that Filipinos have become irritated on the government’s “delayed decision.”

Different opinions were shared on the internet, with some saying the Duterte administration could not just immediately ban foreign travelers coming from China, considering the latter’s contributions to the country’s infrastructure projects.

On the other hand, we believe that in issues like these, the safety of the people should be considered first. The outrage of is not about because they feel entitled but because they fear for their safety. No one can afford to face a challenge like this. Getting sick in the Philippines is not easy. Medicines are getting expensive. The health care system is struggling. Advanced medical facilities are lacking unlike in other countries where they can easily respond to a case like a highly contagious virus.

We have the right to be disappointed or to be dismayed. These feelings are valid. It is not about being against the government, but rather about calling on the government to act on what is expected, appropriate and proper. The people want an immediate response when it comes to this alarming issue. We cannot blame our countrymen for being critical of the government.

We strongly believe the Duterte administration’s lack of immediate response is reflective of how out of touch with the people our national and provincial leaders are.

This only shows that political interest prevails over common good. Duterte is more afraid of damaging relations with China than protecting his countrymen. But what is the use of that relationship if the virus affects his own people and, as President, he should give more attention to the welfare of his people because our Constitution provides in Article 2 Section 15 that “the State shall protect and promote the right to health of the people and instill healthful consciousness among them.” And as the head of the state, he should be the first one to protect the general welfare of his constituents.

Despite this, we believe government should have acted faster when cases of the 2019-nCoV were not reported in the country because it is its responsibility to ensure the citizens’ security. As of now, we should all remain calm and yet be vigilant. As the saying goes, “prevention is better than cure.” It is better to take appropriate measures before a problem can set in rather than after it has already developed. (Justine Kate Paquibot & Nelson Cabreros, USJ-R International Studies students)