Department of Foreign Affairs
Best Practice Focus Area/s
Leadership; Measurement, Analysis and Knowledge Management; Operations
22 April 2020
This is a GBPR Entry
On 22 April 2020, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) institutionalized the creation of the DFA Epidemic Response Committee (ERC), which has been mandated to craft and implement measures to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 infections in the Home Office, Consular Offices, and Foreign Service Posts. The ERC is tasked with crafting an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan (IDPRP). Through the creation and management of the Committee and the implementation of its IDPRP, the spread of COVID-19 infection has been prevented, the safety of DFA’s personnel ensured, and public service continuously provided.
Background and Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic unceasingly worsened, disrupted people’s lives, and adversely affected the normal operations of the Department. Before creating the ERC, the DFA did not have a clear policy or guidelines on how the spread of COVID-19 can be prevented and managed once there is a probable case of COVID-19. With the creation of the ERC and its IDPRP, guidelines have been created to avoid the spread of COVID-19, manage the suspected cases, and set the COVID-19 testing protocol. With its Home Office units, Consular Offices, and Foreign Service Posts, the Department was prepared before easing COVID-19 restrictions, which resulted in efficient new normal operations.
Solution and Impact
The ERC prepared the Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan (IDPRP). The Plan has three parts or phases: Reduce, which is all about the mitigation and preparedness; Respond, dealing with the pandemic such as developing policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick people; and Recover and Resume, to effectively manage, control, and, with safety in mind, expedite the return to normal operations. This stage provides for the activities and programs to gradually return the Department’s system to its normal day-to-day operations. The Committee also created the Preparedness and Response Sub-Committee, tasked to cover the reduce and respond phases of the plan. The Response Sub-Committee conducts a rigorous surveillance process to identify and manage unwell personnel. The Sub-Committee also established reporting, notification, and contact tracing protocols relative to suspected or COVID-19-positive personnel.
The Preparedness and Response Sub-Committee and the ERC even conducted a recovery and resume phase testing at DFA Main and at OCA ASEANA to check the Department’s preparedness. They also conducted tabletop exercises such as when personnel or visitors at the entry point have a high temperature, when receiving clients, or when personnel are not feeling well and must go to the isolation room, etc.
The immediate results of all the preparation and good management practices of the ERC resulted in a low number of COVID-19 cases (87 positive cases out of 4,372 personnel tested recorded from April 2020 to 11 March 2021 or only 1.98%), notwithstanding that the Department continuously provided frontline services to the public which increased the probable exposure of personnel to COVID-19. In addition, when there is a sudden spike of cases, Offices and the Department has a guideline to trigger lockdown and resume operations within 48 hours. Long term, the Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan of the ERC can be used if another pandemic occurs.
Some of the Milestones of the Committee are:
- The Epidemic and Response Committee was created;
- The creation and implementation of the Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan (IDPRP);
- DFA Personnel were tested for COVID-19;
- Workplace Health Coordinators were designated per Office to ensure that personnel followed the safety and health protocols and guide those who tested positive or were suspected of COVID-19. A Workplace Health Coordinators Handbook was also created;
- Contact Tracing Guidelines were created;
- Emergency Response Protocols for Workplace was created and tested; and
- Additional issuances were created as more information was learned.