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Philippines Lifts Ban on Medical Workers Leaving the Country

Luis Liwanag and Jeoffrey Maitem
Manila and Cotabato, Philippines
2020-08-20
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A nurse in the northern Philippine city of Dagupan changes gloves after attending to a patient being tested for COVID-19, May 28, 2020.
A nurse in the northern Philippine city of Dagupan changes gloves after attending to a patient being tested for COVID-19, May 28, 2020.
Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews

The Philippines on Thursday lifted a ban on the deployment of citizens who work abroad as nurses or health care professionals and who were told to stay home in April to help the Southeast Asian nation deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration issued the temporary ban on April 2, “considering the continuing state of public health emergency,” and enjoined the Department of Health, hospitals and health care facilities to hire those professionals to supplement the workforce.

Government-to-government talks regarding the deployment of Filipino health workers also stopped.

On Thursday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced nurses, doctors and other health care professionals who signed contracts with employers abroad as of March 8 “would now be allowed to leave."

“Those who came home to the Philippines for vacation but had been working for a long time abroad can also go,” he said in an announcement broadcast on government television.

Roque said the government’s Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases discussed the issue during a Thursday meeting amid complaints from nurses’ groups.

Previously, Duterte’s spokesman had said he hoped the medical workers’ “sense of nationalism” would prevail and they would stay to help the country weather the health crisis.  Earlier this month, the administration announced plans to hire 10,000 health care workers to battle the pandemic.

On Thursday, the health department reported 88 COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the toll to 2,883. The Philippines also recorded 4,339 infections, lifting the total to 178,022 – the region’s highest.

Globally, more than 22.4 million people have been infected with COVID-19 and nearly 790,000 have died, according to disease experts at the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

The Filipino Nurses United, one of the nation’s largest industry groups, had called on the government to allow its members to leave, especially those whose contracts were signed prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The government has no right to force our nurses to only work in the country if they have opportunities abroad,” FNU president Maristella Abenojar said in a television interview.

She said a “rough estimate” of between 200,000 and 240,000 nurses are unemployed or underemployed, adding that while the government committed to hiring more workers, the pay will not be as much as what they could receive abroad.

The government did not release figures of the number of health care workers employed abroad.

‘Get us gratitude’

Shortly after the April ban, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. began lobbying for the deployment of Filipino health workers to other countries.

“There’s now a pending issue on health care workers. I’m lobbying for them to go to the countries that need them now,” he said in June. “The kind of work they do abroad will get us gratitude of the international community.”

In his remarks Thursday, Roque encouraged health workers to stay in the Philippines and serve their fellow citizens during the pandemic. He said an exodus of nurses and health workers would leave their own families vulnerable to COVID-19.

“If our health workers go abroad, they will have families here,” he said. “I hope our health professionals will consider that."

“No one will attend to their families if we are in need of health workers. I hope they will think of them,” he said.

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