MANILA— President Rodrigo Duterte has approved ending a ban on deploying the nation's health care workers overseas amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said Saturday, clearing the way for thousands of nurses to take up jobs abroad.
"The president already approved the lifting of the temporary suspension of deployment of nurses and other medical workers," Bello told Reuters.
But to ensure the Philippines, which has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, will have enough medical professionals to fight the pandemic, only 5,000 health care workers will be allowed to leave every year, Bello said.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration suspended the deployment of doctors, nurses and health care workers abroad to preserve its frontline force against the pandemic.
The ban took effect April 2 but was later revised to allow health workers with existing employment contracts as of March 8, 2020 to leave the country.
But the clamor mostly from nurses’ groups prompted the government to reconsider expanding the exemption to include health professionals with complete overseas employment contract as of Aug. 31, 2020.
Around 1,000 to 1,500 nurses were affected by the temporary ban that began in April, according to Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) Administrator Bernard Olalia.
Sen. Joel Villanueva welcomed the lifting of deployment ban on healthcare workers.
But Villanueva reminded the need for raising the standards of compensation to healthcare workers.
"As we have said before when we called for the lifting of the ban early on, the most effective way to make our healthcare workers stay and work in our country is to offer better employment terms, including competitive salary and benefits, and its timely payout," he said.
"We’re certain that our healthcare workers would not think twice about leaving their families behind and place themselves overseas where the risk of getting infected is similar here in the country."