Nine doctors on the frontlines of battling COVID-19 in the Philippines have died, officials said Thursday, amid widespread calls to protect the Southeast Asian nation’s last line of defense against the deadly virus.
This came as public anger escalated over news that a senator, Aquilino Pimentel III, who had tested positive for COVID-19, ignored protocols and potentially spread the virus when he accompanied his pregnant wife during her visit at one of the country’s most advanced hospitals, the Makati Medical Center.
Hospital officials said Pimentel’s action put nurses and doctors at risk, straining the already depleted number of health workers. Pimentel, who had tested positive for the virus on March 20, told reporters he learned about the results during a phone call when he was at the hospital.
The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) lashed out at Pimentel for ignoring protocols and for potentially putting the lives of health workers at risk.
“Publicly known is the already dwindling number of frontline doctors and nurses and we could not afford more of this to happen,” the group said.
The PMA said that at least nine doctors have died, including at least two senior physicians. Several others have been intubated as the country grappled with the coronavirus outbreak that has so far killed 45 people and infected 707 others, according to health officials.
More than 22,100 people have died and at least 492,000 have been infected worldwide, according to the latest data compiled by disease experts at Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
“We are saddened by the deaths of our frontline colleagues for responding to COVID-19. I hope somebody will help us because almost every day doctors are [being taken to] the intensive care unit under respirator or ventilator,” Dennis de Guzman, a former PMA official, said over DZBB radio in Manila.
De Guzman urged the government to provide more personal protective equipment despite earlier assurances from health authorities that units already were being procured.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that Pimentel clearly “breached quarantine protocols” and should not have gone to the hospital, adding the agency would back any government investigation of the case.
On Thursday, another senator, Sonny Angara, said he also tested positive for COVID-19. He is the third member of the upper chamber known to have contracted the virus.
Former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he might be infected, but was awaiting results. He released a photo of himself in bed.
Eric Yap, a member of the House of Representatives, on Thursday said tests showed that he was positive. Yap interacted with Sen. Bong Go, President Rodrigo Duterte’s former aide, and could have potentially transmitted the disease. Go, a frequent companion of Duterte, has gone into self-quarantine.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, said regulatory agencies must grant some flexibility to allow more testing kits in the country, which is in the second week of a government-imposed lockdown.
The senator pointed out that hundreds of thousands of rapid-test kits that local businessmen bought from South Korea and China for donation have arrived in the country over a week ago, but all were held by Customs officials.
Duterte earlier placed the country’s armed forces and national police in charge of the country’s fight against COVID-19 just as the Congress approved a law granting him emergency powers in dealing with the viral outbreak.
Respect basic rights, HRW says
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Philippine authorities should respect the basic rights of people detained for violating the government’s COVID-19 regulations. It alleged that police and local officials have confined some of those arrested to dog cages and forced them to sit in the midday sun as punishment, among other abuses.
“Police and local officials should respect the rights of those they arrest for violating curfew and other public health regulations, which can be done while still allowing the Philippines government to take appropriate measures to combat COVID-19,” said Phil Robertson, a deputy Asia director at HRW. “Any mistreatment should be immediately investigated and the authorities responsible held accountable.”
HRW said since Duterte put the main Philippine island of Luzon on lockdown on March 16, police have arrested hundreds in Manila and other parts of the country on charges of violating curfew and social-distancing regulations.