After a delayed initial response, ASEAN accomplished a praised multilateral approach to fighting COVID-19
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations received international criticism for its lack of cooperation and its slow response; given their geographical proximity and intense economic relations with China, ASEAN countries were extremely vulnerable to the spread of the pandemic and soon confirmed their first cases of the virus. However, in the past few months, ASEAN achieved an effective containment of the outbreak, both by demonstrating regional solidarity and by strengthening international cooperation in the face of the COVID-19 challenge.
The intergovernmental organization acted as a bloc, taking collective steps against the pandemic and demonstrating unity and multilateral cooperation. Through several video-conferences held qith the ASEAN Coordination Council, member states were able to share information regarding containment and mitigation measures. In the existing framework of the ASEAN Health sector and the goals stated in the ASEAN Post-2015 Health Development Agenda, the Emergency Operations Centre for public health emergencies provided a platform for daily situational updates, information on prevention and response measures; while the ASEAN BioDiaspora Regional Virtual Centre provided reports of national risk assessments through big data analytics. Moreover, ASEAN member states showed solidarity with regards to laboratory and medical supply needs: Vietnam and Brunei offered support in the form of medical equipment, including test kits, to Laos and Cambodia. On the 9th of April, ASEAN established a Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies and a COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund, to support the needs of member states and enable rapid response to the sanitary emergency. These regional agreements have ensured a successful response to the COVID-19 outbreak, proven by the low number of cases in most of the 10 ASEAN member states.
In addition to such efforts, ASEAN countries managed to contain the pandemic through cooperation with external partners, countries and institutions. On the 10th of March, ASEAN ministers held a video-conference with the European Union, to discuss measures for the immediate public health risks, as well as for the longer-term socio-economic concerns caused by the virus. On the 14th of April, a video summit between the 10 ASEAN members, China, Japan and South Korea was held to enhance cooperation, including the exchange of information, updates on clinical treatments, measures for prevention and control, and sourcing of medical supplies. On the 30th of April, another video conference followed between the Health Ministers of ASEAN and the United States, restating the crucial importance of international cooperation for effectively fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Article edited by Elena Colonna