JAKARTA, 13 March 2020 – The senior health officials of ASEAN Member States today agreed to sustain and further enhance regional collective and strong response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) which WHO declared as a pandemic on 11 March.

The ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting for Health Development (SOMHD) made this commitment at the six-hour special video conference where they shared scaled-up and intensified national prevention, preparedness, detection and response measures. So far, eight of the ten members of the regional body have now reported confirmed cases and experienced community transmissions.

Participants shared updated information on enhanced surveillance and containment, laboratory diagnosis and treatment in health care facilities in public and private hospitals. Further, they exchanged information on travel restrictions; non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing measures; and, other whole-of-government responses as countries undertake mitigation interventions in addition to containment.

The conference also discussed capacity needs and gaps in the national response of each ASEAN Member State which could possibly be supported through cooperation at national or regional levels with Development and Dialogue Partners. These exchanges revealed that some Member States would need technical support in the planning and implementation of containment and mitigation measures; social distancing and ring-fencing; risk communication with the media and public; as well as laboratory, pharmaceutical, equipment and supplies support in ensuring effective management and treatment of cases, particularly severe and critical cases.

The senior health officials also agreed on the convening of the ASEAN Health Ministers through a special video conference to outline enhanced policy and strategic directions that enable the ASEAN region to effectively deal with the situation and to respond to new developments and possible scenarios — including potential spike in cases as the situation escalates.

They also recommended that the ASEAN Health Ministers meet with other Dialogue Partners such as the Plus Three Countries which includes China, Japan and Republic of Korea through special video conferences to further enhance the regional collective response including sharing of lessons learnt based on their respective experiences in slowing down or halting the outbreak of COVID-19 in affected areas or cluster of cases.

It can be recalled that the cooperation between ASEAN and the Plus Three Countries in public health emergency preparedness and response can be traced as early as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, followed by the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, Ebola virus disease preparedness in 2014,  middle east respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-COV) in 2015; and, Zika virus disease in 2016.

The senior health officials also stressed the importance of international cooperation in tackling transboundary issues in COVID-19 threat. They further expressed willingness to engage with other Dialogue and Development Partners to exchange information and experiences, technical guidelines, including sharing critical resources for containment and/or mitigation.

This special video conference is a follow-up to previous video conferences and ongoing technical meetings that have utilised existing ASEAN Health Sector mechanisms. Updates of ASEAN Health Sector preparedness and response measures against COVID-19 can be accessed from the dedicated section of the ASEAN website.

There are now eight ASEAN Member States with more than 580 confirmed cases and seven deaths.