Contingency Planning Checklist in Times of Pandemics and Sudden-Onset Disasters
The global pandemic known as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has affected millions worldwide. Presently in the Philippines, the number of cases continues to increase with 9.90% positivity rate and 1.85% mortality rate. The most vulnerable population is comprised of the elderly, those with comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, or those who are immunocompromised such as people living with HIV, as well as frontline workers in health and essential businesses.
Health system capacity has improved but continues to face challenges. The country currently ranks 20th in the John Hopkins case monitoring dashboard in terms of the country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases. The number of new cases remains variable with a recent spike following a 2-week decline. The Department of Health (DOH), however asserts that the health system has made significant progress not only in improving recovery rates and reducing COVID-19 mortality, but also in increasing hospitals’ capacity to serve suspected/ confirmed COVID-19 patients.
Currently, there is some 42.1% occupancy rate in wards, ICU, and isolation bedsfor COVID-19. Critical health facilities are now more equipped to provide better care to patients compared to during the early stages of the pandemic. However, testing and contact tracing capacity needs to be sustained to accurately
reflect the health situation. On September 2, the national government launched its official contact tracing app – staysafe.ph, while Local Government Units (LGU) also initiated individual contact tracing strategies/app in their respective communities.
The Philippine government utilized a public health-centered approach in mitigating the spread of the virus. Medical response includes strengthening health capacity by recruiting additional 20,000 health professionals, improved and expanded research capacity, and improved health care facilities and care protocols. Community quarantines include imposition of curfew, ban on mass gatherings, closures of schools or congregations, work suspension, and modified work arrangements.
COVID-19 has resulted in severe socio-economic consequences. The response to the pandemic transmission has negatively impacted the economy. Since March 2020, more than 3.3 million workers have lost their jobs. Unemployment rate is at 10% as of July 2020 which is double the rate of 5.4% last year of the same month. The loss of livelihood and lack of income opportunities has limited the access of the poorest families to food, water, and health services, and increased their reliance on aid. Some 7.6M reported involuntary hunger due to the crisis.10 School suspension displaced learners, barred access to supplementary feeding, and increased care work for women. Moreover, the affected population articulated increased feelings of anxiety and distress due to the continuing uncertainty of the situation. The pandemic situation shows disproportionate impact of the pandemic to women, children, and the most marginalized sectors of society.
The Philippines remains at risk to disasters and climate change impacts. The country ranks 3rd in the World Risk Report of 2018 and 5th in the Climate Risk Index of 2019.12 Tropical cyclones account for the largest disaster-related loss in the country. Some 20 tropical cyclones occur in the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) per year. At least 6-9 incidents make landfall causing damage to urban and rural communities. Due to climate change, recent historical data in the country show that stronger typhoons are becoming even more frequent. Degraded ecosystems also exacerbate the impacts of the hazard. Moreover, cyclones are often accompanied by concurrent hazards including floods, flashfloods, and landslides. It also interacts with seasonal and climatological changes including monsoon seasons and El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phases. The typhoon season has already started. Typhoon Vongfong made landfall in May 2020. It was the first typhoon to hit the country this year. It affected almost 400,000 individuals and destroyed shelter, livelihoods, and health facilities. Emergency response activities were complicated by the ongoing quarantine measures and social distancing protocols. The experience from Typhoon Vongfong showed the need to integrate minimum health standards to better prepare for similar hazard events.
On 14 June 2020, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) announced the start of the rainy season. The climate outlook shows that that there is more than 50-55% chance of La Nina either late October or November 2020 which may last through the first quarter of 2020. Above normal rainfall incidents can also be expected in the same period, particularly in December. Moreover, a total of 9 to 12 tropical cyclones are expected to enter the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) until the end of the year. The onset of La Nina will cause tropical cyclones to form nearer land, thereby increasing the chance of landfall.
Capacities are stretched, and resources are dwindling. The whole country was placed under State of Calamity since 16 March 2020-12 September 2021.17 The protracted response due to COVID-19 has depleted resources of the government, private sector, and Civil Society Organizations. LGUs affected by the pandemic have already exhausted their Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund- Emergency Response Fund (LDRRMF-ERF) and have realigned their development funds to provide food assistance, conduct awareness-raising activities, and supplement health equipment and services. Medical and government front liners have provided continuous health and social services.
With the advent of the Typhoon season alongside the continuous COVID-19 response, there is a need to revisit plans to better manage risks and increase response capacities. Contingency plans (CP) can be reviewed to update risk assessments, integrate Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) protocols, and improve response arrangements. Other government plans including the DRRM Plans, Annual Investment Plans (AIP), and Comprehensive Development Plans (CDP) may also benefit from the review process.
The Contingency Planning Checklist is an attempt to summarize experiences from the ground into a diagnostic tool that supports the integration of COVID-19 protocols and lessons from the ongoing response into existing Contingency Plans. It is a list of recommendations across multiple sectors that can serve as an entry point in the CP updating process.