Exhausted health workers want 'breathing space', seek Metro Manila's return to ECQ

Aleta Nieva-Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 01 2020 09:37 AM | Updated as of Aug 01 2020 04:01 PM

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MANILA (UPDATE) – Health workers overwhelmed by the surge in cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients needing hospital care are urging government to give them at least 2 weeks of “breathing space” by shifting Mega Manila back to a strict lockdown. 

“We’re waging a losing battle against COVID-19 and we need to draw up a consolidated, definitive plan of action,” the letter addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte, COVID-19 chief implementor Carlito Galvez Jr. and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said. 

It was read by Philippine Medical Association (PMA) president Dr. Jose Santiago during an online press conference headed by the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) on Saturday. 

During the briefing attended by over 40 medical societies, they said that the health care system has been overwhelmed, with hospitals temporarily closing to decongest and health workers falling ill. 

“We propose that the ECQ be used as a timeout to refine our pandemic control strategies addressing the following urgent conditions or problems: hospital workforce efficiency; failure of contact tracing and quarantine; transportation safety; workplace safety; public compliance with self-protection; social amelioration,” Santiago read. 

They recommend that the ECQ be implemented for 2 weeks from August 1 to 15. They also want government to reconsider the plan to reopen other industries such as gyms, fitness centers, tutorial services, review centers, internet cafes, pet grooming services, and drive-in cinemas previously closed due to a strict lockdown.

“Our health workers should not bear the burden of deciding who lives and who dies. If the health system collapses, it is ultimately our poor who are most compromised. In the end, winning the war against COVID-19 relies heavily on being able to keep our health system capacitated to address the need of all Filipinos,” the letter added. 

“We hope our government heeds this plea.” 

COMMUNITY QUARANTINE INSUFFICIENT RESPONSE TO PANDEMIC

Malacañang on Saturday maintained that the strict lockdown imposed in Metro Manila has served its purpose and that other strategies are now being implemented.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said local government units are tasked to implement among others minimum health standards, localized lockdowns, mass targeted testing, intensive tracing, quarantine and isolation of confirmed cases.
 
Roque added that community quarantine alone is not enough as a response in controlling the pandemic. 

“We are scaling up hospital capacity by increasing allocation of COVID-dedicated beds while hiring more doctors, nurses, and medical-personnel. We are also engaging the community through risk communication, social mobilization and advocacy to observe the minimum public health standards of wearing a mask washing of hands, and keeping a physical distance. Mag-mask, hugas, iwas is our battlecry in our war against COVID-19,” Roque said. 

Dr. Maricar Limpin, Vice President of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), said that their recommendations are not just for a community quarantine.

"Kailangan natin diyan ang isang extensive, comprehensive na stratehiya para mas epektibo nating makontrol ang spread ng COVID-19 infection. Kailangan isang direksiyon lang ang kapupuntahan ng bawat isa," she said.

(We need an extensive, comprehensive strategy for a more effective control of the spread of the COVID-19 infection. We should have a singular direction.)

She added that the implementation of health measures does not only lie on local government units but needs the guidance from the Department of Health.

"We are the last line of defense, 'wag na nating pabayaan na ang last line of defense natin ay bumagsak (let us not allow our last line of defense to collapse)," Limpin said.

COVID-19 cases in the country, mostly in Metro Manila, surged this month as government relaxed quarantine restrictions to revive the crippled economy. On Friday, over 4,000 cases, another single-day record, was reported. 

“Kami pong medical professionals ay nag sa-suffer na rin po so much from the mental burden of this pandemic (We medical professionals have been suffering from the mental burden of this pandemic). We have been in this fight since March and we deserve and we feel we are nearing the end of our line,” said Dr. Aileen Espina of the Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians. 

Espina recommended that contact tracing in the National Capital Region be strengthened during the timeout to help better address the pandemic. 

“We know it’s like finding a needle in a haystack, thus, we are appealing that we use both analog and digital means. Cost-effective technology is already available and can augment the shortage of human resource,” she said. 

Dr. Lei Camiling said that the progressive lifting of the quarantine has fueled public misperception that the pandemic is easing.

“Ang nararanasan namin ngayon ay mas malala pa kesa nung nag-umpisa tayo nung March. Ayaw po nating maging New York, namamatay mga pasyente sa bahay, wala nang mapuntahan,” she said. 

(What we are experiencing now is far worse than what we experienced when we started out in March. We don’t want to be another New York where patients die at home, with nowhere to go to.) 

Limpin echoed the same sentiments in an earlier interview with ABS-CBN Teleradyo, also on Saturday.

“Ang nagiging malaking problema ang behavior ng mga Pilipino. Kasi ngayon, masyadong nag-relax ng community quarantine. Ang message na umaabot sa bawat Pilipino ok lang ‘yan, ok na tayo kasi nag-relax na tayo,” she said. 

(A big problem is the behavior of Filipinos. Because now, the community quarantine has been relaxed. The message sent to Filipinos is we're OK, we can relax.) 

Limpin said they need to call for a timeout to regroup and think of how to change the trend and allow tired heath workers to breathe.

“Rekomendasyon namin, ibalik tayo sa ECQ kahit panandalian lamang, mga 2 linggo, bigyan n’yo lang kami ng breathing space. Kasi kami po ang naririyan sa battlefield, kami po 'yung humaharap at nakakakita ng nangyayari. Kailangang pakinggan kami ng gobyerno,” said Limpin.

(Our recommendation is to put us back under ECQ even for the meantime, just two weeks, to give us breathing space. We are the ones in the battlefield, we are the ones facing, seeing what's happening. Government should listen to us.)

As of this week, over 4,500 doctors, nurses and other health care workers have contracted the disease. 

“Kung kami po ay napapagod na, huwag ninyong hintayin na bumagsak lahat kami. 'Pag bumagsak lahat kami papaano na po mamamayang Pilipino?” said Limpin. 

(If we're already tired, don't wait for us to collapse. If we collapse, all of us, what happens to the Filipino people?)

She said they fear the day when hospitals and health care workers all bog down due to the rising number of COVID-19 patients that need treatment, especially as more sectors are reopening due to a more relax lockdown status. 

“Bubulusok dami ng taong magkakaroon ng COVID-19 at ang pinakamahirap dyan, marami tayong itataboy na pasyente dahil ‘di na kakayanin ng ospital na tumanggap pa ng higit sa kung ano meron tayo,” she said. 

(The number of people with COVID-19 will surge and the hardest part is we will have to turn away patients because hospitals can no longer take patients more than capacity.) 

She explained that it is not just about the issue of expanding bed capacity in hospitals but also the health situation of health care workers. 

She said there was a shortage in doctors, nurses, even ambulance drivers. 

"Itong buong sistema ng ospital apektado po kahit increased bed capacity, walang taong titingin sa mga pasyente kaya ‘di rin namin magawa,” she pointed out. 

(The entire hospital system is affected, even with increased bed capacity, there's no staff to check on patients.) 

Limpin also appealed to Filipinos to strictly follow minimum health protocols set by the government such as properly wearing masks and observing physical distancing while in public to curb the spread of the disease. 

On Friday, government announced that the general community quarantine will remain in Metro Manila and several other areas, while Cebu City, a hotspot, will also shift to the more relaxed quarantine level. 

As of July 31, the Department of Health has recorded 93,354 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, including 65,178 recoveries and 2,023 deaths.