The Bloomberg Resiliency Index report https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-resilience-ranking/ released last June 28, 2021 was a wake up call at why countries who may have been doing well during the beginning of the pandemic may be sitting at the lower bottom of the rung eventually.
Resiliency, after all, is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty; toughness”. It is the ability to return to normalcy after a period of instability due to external factors. And while some people or government agencies may feel that there is an element of bias in this, it is generally a good reminder that preparedness is vital in disaster management.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, many Asian countries were doing much better than western counterparts. But as the situation evolved, the once spectators are now being carefully watched. How a nation addresses resiliency during a time of uncertainty apparently comes down to the last cent and priorities.
The Bloomberg COVID resiliency index is divided into 3 major categories: reopening progress, COVID status, and quality of life. In turn, these major categories have 4 variables measured per category. For example, under reopening progress, the authors took into account: vaccine coverage, lockdown severity, flight capacity and vaccinated travel routes. A higher score for the particular variable would be displayed in a darker shade of blue, while a worse resiliency score for that variable is in a darker shade of orange, as exemplified in the chart below.
There were 53 countries ranked. Notice that the United States was the most resilient in the June 28 report while New Zealand, with a vaccines coverage of only 10% came in second. In short, no nation excelled in all variables. They had their own gaps, which they need to work on.
The second category was on COVID status. The four variables that were looked into were: 1-month cases per 100,000 population, 1-month case fatality rate, total deaths per million population, and testing (positive test rate). The latter is important because the only way one can know the actual number of cases, and who to contact trace, isolate and/or quarantine is through testing. The higher the positive test rate, the most likely the lesser number of tests being done. And this is reflective in the number of cases, and deaths. You cannot have a country having thousands of cases and deaths daily if testing is not being done. The question is – are they testing enough?
The last category, and one of the most important is the quality of life. This is divided into 4 variables which looked at community mobility, 2021 GDP growth forecast, universal healthcare coverage, and human development index. Human development index has four indicators – life expectancy for health, expected years of schooling, mean of years of schooling for education, and gross national income per capita for standard of living.
With the jury back, the Philippines had slipped notches below to rank second to the last in the resiliency rating for the month of June. The countries from rank 39-53 showed how reopening the economy was the most challenging among the resiliency parameters. In particular is the vaccine coverage and the lockdown as the only measure used to address containing the pandemic in the country.
While we do excellently at improving the COVID status in the country, our resiliency score is dragged down by variables under quality of life and the respective indicators for these variable. Restricted mobility due to lockdowns (we are, after all the country with the longest lockdown of some form in the world), poor healthcare coverage, and subpar human development index (with education suffering the most) dragged the Philippines to number 52, with a resiliency score of 45.
There are those who sour grape at how we were ranked. But we need to take the information with a grain of salt. One of the interesting points of the resiliency index was how they scored the various categories. Without reading the methodology, some government officials reacted defensively. The data references on methodology is indicated below:
Agreeably though are indices on vaccines and flight capacity as well as vaccinated travel routes. It is, without doubt that with the roll out of vaccines late last year, the great divide between rich countries vs. poor ones had the line drawn. Failing on all these metrics would not be fair to countries that continue to struggle to get hold of scarce supplies for vaccines. In the race to reopen, even Taiwan saw a dramatic decline in their resiliency. Thailand even outranked Taiwan, even if the latter had fewer cases. Asian nations that saw how they handled the pandemic well in the beginning are now relegated to the bottom. One cannot just close borders and expect the virus to disappear. We know that’s never going to happen. SARS-CoV-2 has earned its place in the textbooks on infectious diseases and microbiology.
It’s important to look back at where the 53 countries were 8 months back. There was, after all, a time when our resiliency was better than the US or the UK. In the months starting mid December 2020 to March 2021, we outranked our western counterparts. Unfortunately, several factors including late and poor access to vaccines, evolving variants of concern, poor mitigation of border control, and inadequate testing resulted in why we are where we are today.
There was no exit plan. It was a series of lockdowns one after the other. Every two weeks, we would see the same people prompting the same information day in and day out on the quarantine classification. Every day, we got accustomed to simply waiting for the 4 o’clock habit and announcement on the number of cases and deaths.
Let’s not twist what is a fact.
We did well in the beginning. We fumbled in between.
We are where we are because we have really no exit plan.
We are bickering at the use of face shields, and the government is at an all out campaign at preserving the implementation of a useless piece of plastic on our faces. Did that change the curve to an upward direction?
Even politicians got into the fray of recommending anti-parasitic drugs for prophylaxis and the treatment of COVID-19. The push coming from no less than the president commanding a research be done (with public funds) to see if it does or does not work at all.
School remained closed, even in areas where there are few to no cases of the virus in the 7,641 islands of this archipelago.
While testing facilities escalated to 265 as of this writing, more than 50% were concentrated in two regions – NCR and Region IVA. NCR or Mega Manila actually accounted for 112 testing sites in the whole country.
It was undeniable that the government needed to create so much background noise because it refused to call out the accountability of those who were tasked to steer us out of this pandemic.
The challenge to the government is not to transition us to a new normal.
The challenge to it is to get us back to what is normal.
That is why resiliency matters.