MANILA - Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Saturday said he understood the concerns of the medical community that has called to lock down Metro Manila again as the number of coronavirus cases near 100,000.
"We hear you," Duque said in a statement that was sent out on the Department of Health's social media accounts.
"Fellow health workers, please know that as the Secretary of Health, I hear your pleas -- and I will present these to the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force).
"We have noted in particular your call for a time-out for the NCR (National Capital Region). We will bring it to the full attention of the IATF and present to them more comprehensive strategies to protect our ranks."
The health chief promised government would do more to "care for our carers" with detailed plans for support, such as lodging, transportation, food and provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).
He also said the administration would push for more systematic reforms on compensation and benefits and acknowledged the work and sacrifice made by health workers in the battle against COVID-19.
As lead of the task group on response operations, Duque said the Department of Health (DOH) would work with the National Task Force to effectively implement localized lockdowns and that health system would be provided comprehensive support.
"We will revisit and include the inputs we have gathered in our overall gameplan. The DOH will develop this strategy in coordination with our government and non-government counterparts in the next 7 days," Duque said.
The health chief, who is facing calls to resign while being investigated by the Ombudsman over the agency's handling of the crisis, also remained bullish about the country's fight against the novel coronavirus.
"No matter the odds, no matter how bleak it might have looked before, this battle is not hopeless," Duque said, as the novel coronavirus has so far sickened 4,823 health workers, with 38 fatalities.
"Let us start today to rally ourselves to stem the tide of rising cases, and ultimately win against this coronavirus war."
In a letter addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte, doctors and nurses have called on the government to revert Metro Manila's restriction to enhanced community quarantine for 2 weeks.
“We’re waging a losing battle against COVID-19 and we need to draw up a consolidated, definitive plan of action,” a statement from 40 medical societies read.
They said the country's health care system has been stretched thin, with some hospitals temporarily closing to decongest and health workers falling ill.
“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.”
Metro Manila, home to roughly a tenth of the Philippines' 100 million population, remained as the country's coronavirus epicenter, with 50,611 cases.
In response to the call of health workers, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the President has directed IATF to act on it.
The Palace values the health workers' service as frontliners in the fight against COVID-19, Roque added.
"We are grateful for their immense contributions to heal our people and our nation during these difficult times," he said.
"Your voices have been heard. We cannot afford to let down our modern heroes. This is our commitment."
On Saturday, the number of coronavirus infections in the Philippines reached 98,232, with 2,039 fatalities and 65,265 recoveries.
The nationwide caseload includes 30,928 active cases, majority of which are exhibiting mild symptoms.