Need to standardise travel and health protocols across countries: Asean ministers

To facilitate re-opening of travel, Asean should have a common health passport or digital platform, said Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - 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 Special Ministerial Conference for Asean Digital Public Health. The event is being held virtually on Wednesday (Oct 6) and Thursday.

Countries today have different pandemic travel requirements. Mr Budi said Asean should have a common health passport or digital platform, such as the TraceTogether app, to facilitate reopening of travel.

Similar to Singapore's TraceTogether, Indonesia has a contact-tracing app which has been downloaded and installed by more than 60 million Indonesians, he added.

He also highlighted the role of the private sector, such as the telemedicine start-ups that have been roped in by the Indonesian government to help with tele-consultations and the home delivery of medicine to confirmed cases that do not require hospitalisation.

He 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 Asean has been vaccinated with at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and at least 65 per cent of the total population has 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.

During a panel discussion, Brunei Health Minister Mohd Isham Jaafar said that following a second wave of Covid-19 in the country's schools and the oil and gas industry, the government had ramped up testing capacity to between 10,000 and 12,000 a day.

There has been a recent spike in cases at offshore platforms in Brunei's Champion field, the country's biggest source of crude oil exports. The surge marks the first major outbreak in Brunei since the report of its first active case in March 2020.

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

Dr Aladdin Rillo, senior economic advisor at the Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia, stressed the importance of building more resilient supply chains which underpin Asean's economic growth.

"It is no longer an option, but rather, an imperative for a more sustainable future," he said, adding that there is a need to intensify the use of technological solutions.

"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, 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.

"So while we can see a clear rationale for reopening economies... decision-makers probably need to find ways to reassure their populations," he said.

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 earnings when they enter the workforce. Countries which make use of digital tools such as payments systems and national digital identities, Mr Diop added, are much more efficient and effective in delivering support to their population.

GIC chief executive 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 come together to fund innovation.

"The role of the financial world (in this instance) is to provide the ecosystem to bring planet, people and partnership ideas together," he said.

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