Philippines Duterte ends overseas travel ban for healthcare workers, minister says

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Newly graduated nurses gesture while having a friend’s photo taken before the professional nurses swearing-in ceremony at a mall in Manila

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By Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved an end to the ban on deploying the country’s healthcare workers, his labor minister said on Saturday, paving the way for thousands of nurses to take jobs at abroad.

“The president has already approved the lifting of the temporary suspension on the deployment of nurses and other medical workers,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello told Reuters.

Bello said the spread of the new coronavirus was slowing in the country and conditions were improving, so the government could afford to let its healthcare workers go.

The Philippines has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, but the daily number of cases and death rates have fallen.

To ensure the Philippines has enough medical professionals to continue fighting the pandemic at home, only 5,000 healthcare workers will be allowed to leave each year, Bello said.

“We’re only starting with a cap of 5,000, so we’re not going to run out (of medical staff), but that could eventually increase,” Bello said.

Last year, nearly 17,000 nurses signed data on overseas employment contracts from the Philippine Higher Education Commission and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.

In April, the government banned nurses, doctors and other medical workers from leaving, saying they were needed to tackle the coronavirus crisis at home.

Thousands of health workers, who call themselves “prison nurses”, have called on the government to let them take jobs overseas, Reuters reported in September. Nurses say they feel underpaid, underrated and unprotected in the Philippines.

While the lifting of the travel ban was a “welcome development,” Maristela Abenojar, president of Filipino Nurses United, challenged the government to follow through on its commitment to give its nurses better pay and benefits. he wants them to stay.

Filipino health workers are on the front lines of the pandemic in hospitals across the United States, Europe and the Middle East as well as at home.

New coronavirus cases in the Philippines have remained below 2,000 since November 10, while deaths, which totaled 8,025 as of November 20, accounted for just 1.93% of the country’s 415,067 cases.

The occupancy rate of hospital beds has also fallen from critical levels, and the government has gradually relaxed quarantine restrictions to revive the economy hit by the coronavirus.

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