Philippines might lift overseas deployment ban on health workers after virus pandemic

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 18 2020 03:38 PM

A health worker interviews a patient at the San Juan COVID-19 Kalinga Center on April 19, 2020. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Philippines might lift the overseas deployment ban on health workers once the state of public health emergency due to COVID-19 is over, Malacañang said Tuesday after the government's pandemic task force reiterated the prohibition.

The Philippines, a key exporter of nurses and other medical workers, needs more health professionals with local healthcare workers on the frontlines of the virus fight already exhausted, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said.

"Ang dahilan po ay charity begins at home. Mas nangangailangan po tayo ng mga health professionals dahil nga two weeks ago, humhingi ng timeout ang ating frontliners," Roque said of the continuing deployment ban, during a Palace press briefing.

(The reason for the deployment ban is charity begins at home. We need more health professionals because just two weeks ago, our frontliners asked for a timeout.)

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration had barred the deployment of Filipino healthcare workers at the onset of the pandemic. Only those with perfected and signed overseas employment contracts as of March 8, 2020 were allowed to leave the country.

Asked on when the government could lift the deployment ban, Roque responded: "We have a state of public health emergenncy. So, siguro po, 'pag humupa na itong health emergency na ito."

(Maybe once the health emergency is over.)

President Rodrigo Duterte in March placed the Philippines under a state of public health emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. The declaration remains in effect until he withdraws it.

Roque added that the government is also cautious in deploying health workers abroad since they might be assigned in areas with high number of COVID-19 cases.

"Pinag-iingatan din natin ang kalusugan nila dahil kung pupunta sila sa lugar na mas maraming COVID cases," he said.

(We are also protecting their health since they might go to areas with more COVID cases.)

The Philippines also continues to grapple with a surge in infections, leading the tally of cases in Southeast Asia at 164,474, as of Monday, Aug 17. The country's first case was recorded on Jan. 30 in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China, where the disease is believed to have first emerged.

Deploying health workers abroad might also negatively affect the morale of Filipinos in the virus fight, COVID-19 policy chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said.

"We need to preserve them and we need to reconstitute more reserves para ma-sustain po natin ang fight na ito. If we will allow our healthcare workers to go abroad, there will be a morale problem," he said.

"We have to preserve them to serve our country. This is the heroic duty as doctors and nurses - to serve our country, to serve our people, to serve our humanity," he added.

Of the country's latest case tally, 49,034 are active infections.