Call for common health passport in Asean forum

Ministers discuss impact of Covid-19, post-pandemic economic resilience

Asean ministers called for standardised health and travel protocols at a regional forum to discuss the impact of Covid-19.

Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin stressed the need to reform the global health architecture, establish a mechanism for sharing aid, and standardise health protocols across countries on the first day of the two-day Special Ministerial Conference for Asean Digital Public Health.

Asean should have a common health passport, or digital platform such as Singapore's TraceTogether app, to facilitate the reopening of travel, Mr Budi said yesterday at the virtual event. Indonesia has a contact tracing app which has been downloaded and installed by more than 60 million Indonesians, he added.

He highlighted the role of the private sector, such as telemedicine start-ups that have been roped in by the Indonesian government to help with tele-consultations and home delivery of medicines. He also outlined the goal to double the number of vaccinated Indonesians from 150 million to 300 million by the end of this year.

A September report by the Asean Biodiaspora Virtual Centre showed that at least 80 per cent of the high-risk population in all but two Asean countries have been vaccinated with at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and the region is on track to at least 65 per cent of the total population having a level of immunity to the virus.

The conference is being organised by EVYD Knowledge Hub in collaboration with Asean chair Brunei's ministries of finance and economy and health, Brunei Investment Agency, and Temasek Foundation.

In a separate panel on post-pandemic economic resilience, speakers spoke about the importance of building buffers and reducing over-concentration, by leveraging neighbouring economies in order to build resilience.

Dr Aladdin Rillo, senior economic adviser at the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia, stressed the need to build more resilient supply chains. "It is no longer an option, but rather an imperative for a more sustainable future," he said. "Digitalisation will help enhance visibility at each stage of the supply chain, and that is important in enhancing the capacity of countries to deal with future shocks as well as to mitigate the impacts of these shocks."

Dr Ndiame Diop, country director for Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand at the World Bank, said that while accelerating vaccination will help reduce the rates of serious illness and deaths, it is "not that simple" for governments to allow full resumption of activities because of the wide spectrum of public opinion and comfort levels.

Noting the greater risk that Covid-19 poses to smaller firms and less developed economies, he said it has had a huge impact on household incomes and education which could be long-lasting.

For example, food insecurity and limited online learning during the pandemic could dampen children's future earnings. Countries which make use of digital tools such as payment systems and national digital identities, Mr Diop added, are much more efficient and effective in delivering support.

GIC chief executive officer Lim Chow Kiat observed that there are still gaps to be filled in the regional e-commerce and logistics space, where investors can find opportunities to deploy capital.

Given that around half of the Asean population remains unbanked, there is also room for financial and fintech firms to deliver banking services at a low cost, and to launch mass-market products, he said.

Mr Desmond Kuek, the divisional vice-chairman of UBS Global Wealth Management, said that along with Asia's energy transition comes "huge potential" for public and private investors to get together to fund innovation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2021, with the headline 'Call for common health passport in Asean forum'. Subscribe