PH temporarily bans deployment of health workers abroad amid COVID-19 outbreak

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 10) — The Philippine government has temporarily banned doctors, nurses, microbiologists, and other health workers from leaving to work abroad as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

An April 2 order signed by Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who sits as chairperson of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), restricts medical frontliners from leaving the country "until the national state of emergency is lifted."

Citing a provision of Republic Act 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the POEA said the Executive has been given the power to tap more health workers as additional manpower as the country combats the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Covered by the temporary overseas deployment ban are medical doctors, nurses, microbiologists, molecular biologists, medical technologists, clinical analysts, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, X-ray or radiologic technicians, nursing assistants or aide, operators of medical equipment, supervisor of health services and personal care, and repairmen of medical equipment.

"It is of paramount national interest to ensure that the country shall continue to have, sustain the supply of, and prepare sufficient health personnel to meet any further contingencies, especially to replace, substitute or reinforce existing workforce currently employed, deployed or utilized locally," the POEA order read.

Public and private hospitals have reported thinner workforce as some frontliners have been forced to undergo self-quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 patients. More than 200 doctors, nurses, and hospital staff have also been infected, while 17 doctors have died due to the disease, the Philippine Medical Association said.

READ: Medical group cites protective equipment lack for death of 17 doctors

Should the national emergency end, medical professionals will still be stopped from leaving unless travel restrictions to their destination countries due to COVID-19 are lifted. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddyboy Locsin denounced POEA's move. In a tweet, the country's top diplomat said authorities were "dead wrong" and are "violating the Constitution" with the deployment ban.

"That only makes sense and justice if we pay them foreign rates and later — this is gonna be my work — negotiate first-class work contracts for them because I don't trust people in the pockets of recruiters. If suspension, we owe departing health workers mucho in euros," Locsin said in another tweet.

Other nations are also battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 18,800 nurses migrated between 2007 and 2017, according to data from the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. Many of them seek to work abroad as they are paid much higher, bulk of which they send to their loved ones back home.