JAKARTA, 17 April 2020 – Health experts and officials from ASEAN Member States and Italy convened through a video conference to exchange views on the strategies and experiences of Italy in combating the COVID-19 disease.

Italy was one of the first countries in Europe where COVID-19 gained a foot hold and in March became the epicentre of the pandemic after China. The country’s response strategies and interventions to the overwhelming impact of COVID-19 serve as valuable inputs and insights for ASEAN Member States where outbreaks continue to be on the uptrend.

Walter Ricciardi, a scientific adviser for COVID-19 to the Italian Minister of Health, shared the country’s experiences and the role of European Union in combating COVID-19. He emphasised early detection, testing of suspected cases and contact tracing as critical measures in managing the threats of the spread in the community.

He pointed out the urgent need for strengthened and enhanced healthcare services capacity and intensive care units to accommodate the sudden influx of severe cases and reduce deaths.

Ricciardi further underscored the importance of whole-of-society involvement in ensuring compliance to social distancing efforts to break the transmission of the virus, reduce cases, ‘flatten the curve’, and prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

While Italy is seeing stabilisation of the outbreak and are putting in place measures to re-open communities, they are planning for potential future waves of cases, as the threat may continue to exist until an effective vaccine is available.

The conference also exchanged on various aspects of the pandemic, among others: serologic surveillance; drug trials; repeat positives and reinfection; mental health due to traumatic/stress of the patients, health workers, and general population; care and support for vulnerable groups; care and management of dead bodies; or economic losses.

Ricciardi, who is currently the vice-president of the World Federation of Public Health Associations, also put critical importance on the solidarity and synergies of efforts among neighbouring countries in tackling issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regional bodies, like ASEAN and the European Union, provide added value to the efforts made by each Member State, among others, by serving as repository of information or knowledge centre for the region; supporting or facilitating the mobilisation of  resources, such as the procurement of personal protective equipment. They can also coordinate a pool of experts/research groups to maximise the efforts in finding solutions, such as vaccine research and development for COVID-19.

Italian Ambassador to Malaysia Cristiano Maggipinto, who was also in attendance, commended the role of ASEAN Health Sector, through the ASEAN Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) Network. The network supports national efforts of ASEAN Member States by engaging with partners and providing platform for the sharing of information and knowledge on COVID-19.

The ASEAN EOC Network for public health emergencies continually provides the platform for these types of coordination and cooperation efforts.

The video conference was organised and hosted by the ASEAN EOC Network through Lead Country Malaysia, and was supported by the Embassy of Italy to Malaysia. Health experts from China also attended this video conference and participated in the discussions.

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