Mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic raises concern

Asia News Network commentators draw attention to inadequacies in the Covid-19 response in various countries

Misleading claims of Covid-19 cure

Vincentius Aji Jatikusumo

The Jakarta Post, Indonesia

Researchers at Airlangga University (Unair) and the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) released on June 12 what appeared to be an encouraging statement: the discovery of five combination drug therapies and two stem cell therapies for treating Covid-19.

The joint statement also said that the medicines were ready for distribution to treat Covid-19 patients.

In theory, the drug combinations recommended by Unair and BIN have the potential to inhibit Sars-CoV-2. However, none of the recommended drugs have been proved in any clinical study to be a safe and effective treatment for Covid-19.

In fact, evidence exists that one of the drugs, hydroxychloroquine, may worsen the condition of patients. This led the World Health Organisation to suspend the clinical trial of the drug.

Unair and BIN are correct in conducting in vitro (test tube) experiments to verify the effect and toxicity of the drugs. Unfortunately, they have not communicated in any clear way on how they designed, executed and analysed their experiments.

Stem cell therapy is another Covid-19 treatment that Unair and BIN researchers have proposed.

However, stem cell therapy is still considered very risky, expensive and limited to treating a few cancers, such as leukaemia. No evidence exists that stem cell therapy is efficient in treating viral infections in the human body such as the coronavirus.

Unair's and BIN's valiant efforts should still be applauded, as they are committed to treating Covid-19 and ending the pandemic. However, everyone should realise that discovering treatments and developing a potential vaccine for a disease that was virtually unknown six months ago take a lot of time and resources.

Unair and BIN said that they had submitted their research to at least seven peer-reviewed international journals, but this does not mean that their research is validated immediately. It still needs to be reviewed and questioned by their scientific peers.

A policeman standing guard at a barricade at a restricted area sealed by the authorities in Lahore, Pakistan, last Thursday. It is evident that, much like the global trend in countries where Covid-19 cases have soared, Pakistan's daily cases and deat
A policeman standing guard at a barricade at a restricted area sealed by the authorities in Lahore, Pakistan, last Thursday. It is evident that, much like the global trend in countries where Covid-19 cases have soared, Pakistan's daily cases and deaths are growing, says one of the writers. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Random testing is not mass testing

Michael Tan

Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippines

We are truly fortunate that, in the Philippines, we have adopted masks wholeheartedly, although with some lapses in the way they are used.

We are all right with masks, but with testing, we are pretty much like the United States, with all the well-publicised criticism of our testing continuing to be haphazard and without a sense of direction.

I have written about this several times, as has my fellow columnist Mahar Mangahas: We need random testing or, to use an epidemiological term, sentinel surveillance - looking at all geographical areas and at different population groups, and not just the so-called high-risk ones.

Random (but systematic) testing is not mass testing. We do not need to test all 110 million Filipinos, but we do need to have representative geographical distribution so we can have early detection. Right now, we wait for an outbreak and then rush in to test, and we are often by then overwhelmed by the speed of its spread, as is happening now in Cebu.

What I worry about now is that even while we are improving, ever so slowly, on testing, we do not seem to be doing adequate contact tracing, which must go together with the testing. Contact tracers look at the people behind the numbers. It is through contact tracing that we have obtained some of the very important information on superspreader venues.

Overcome vulnerabilities


The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

The spread of infections with the coronavirus has directly hit the vulnerabilities in Japan's politics, economy and society. The country must make all-out efforts to restore peace of mind to people's lives.

The Yomiuri Shimbun has compiled a set of proposals to build a society that is resistant to infectious diseases in preparation for the arrival of a second wave of infections.

First, the proposal calls for improving the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing system and increasing the number of tests to 100,000 a day. By combining it with antigen tests and other methods appropriately, it is hoped that the reality of the infection situation will be revealed.

A shortage of hospital beds must be avoided. Place people with mild symptoms in accommodation facilities, hospitalise those with moderate symptoms in priority medical institutions and those with severe symptoms in advanced medical institutions.

To increase the speed of implementing measures and delivering clear messages, the creation of a control tower initiated by the prime minister to lead infectious disease measures will be effective.

Second, as for economic stimulus measures, it has taken time to provide cash relief and loans. Efforts must be accelerated to restructure the relevant systems.

There is no point in compiling a budget unless funds are actually distributed. The government must thoroughly reflect on the situation and establish an infrastructure that enables swift budget execution.

Another task is to accelerate digitalisation, which lags behind other countries. Online handling of applications needs to be strengthened, so that people can receive benefits and loans through simple procedures.

Third, international cooperation will be essential to the development of vaccines and therapeutic drugs and the distribution of them. It is proper for Japan, as the host country preparing for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, to take the lead.

Leave space for ordinary patients

Badiuzzaman Bay

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

According to a tell-all report by The Daily Star, a number of professional bodies have secured beds for their members and families at several private hospitals in Dhaka.

On June 11, the Bangladesh Judicial Service Association signed a deal with the Universal Medical College Hospital to provide treatment to lower court judges suffering from Covid-19 and other diseases.

Not to be outdone, the Bangladesh Police on May 5 "hired" an entire hospital (Impulse Hospital) for 2½ months to treat its members.

Since when has it been it all right to "book" entire hospitals or hospital beds for certain people? Should we accept this as a new normal where access to treatment for the common people will be contingent on the availability of beds left by the influential?

Since March 8, when the country confirmed its first coronavirus case, there have been multiple reports of ordinary people desperately moving from one hospital to another without receiving treatment. Recently, the nurse of a private hospital in Dhaka died after being denied treatment by the very hospital she worked at.

A common thread running through these heartbreaking episodes is the victims' "ordinariness", their having no power or connections that could qualify them for treatment.

The situation has reached a point where people are simply afraid to have anything to do with sickness lest they need to confront the challenges of hospitalisation.

Pakistan hasn't reached its peak yet


Dawn, Pakistan

On multiple days since the middle of this month, official figures for coronavirus-related deaths in the country have been well over 100. According to press releases issued by the National Command and Operation Centre, 111 people lost their lives to Covid-19 on June 16 and 136 on June 17.

About a week ago, the official death toll in a single day was 153 - the highest in 24 hours since the start of the outbreak in Pakistan at the end of February. As these figures continue to climb, the daily number of tests towards the end of this month stands at an average of 28,500 - far lower than the 100,000 daily testing milestone the government has calculated for next month.

It is evident that, much like the global trend in countries where Covid-19 cases have soared, Pakistan's daily cases and deaths are growing.

Although the authorities may argue that cases and deaths here are still lower than in many of the worst-hit countries, the reality is that Pakistan is still over a month away from what the authorities and think-tanks have estimated to be the "peak phase".

As we approach that dreaded period, testing must be ramped up, and fast, so that we can have a realistic picture of the spread of Covid-19.

• The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 24 news media titles.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2020, with the headline 'Mishandling of the pandemic raises concern'. Subscribe