‘Enemy is COVID’: Duterte wants DOJ to study legality of stopping health workers from leaving PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 5) — President Rodrigo Duterte said he wants Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to urgently look into the legality of barring Filipino healthcare workers from leaving the country due to the threat of COVID-19 to those in the medical field.

In his late-night address on Monday, Duterte said that more than facing a shortage of healthcare workers in the country, he is worried that they might expose themselves to the coronavirus when they migrate to other countries.

“It has to be this week. Maybe two days from now. We’ll have to meet again and consult legal, si Secretary Guevarra, whether or not it would be legal for us to just stop the migration of health workers,” he added.

The President added, “If I send you to a warfront, the enemy is the COVID, the microbes, eh parang maawa ako. Please do not misunderstand me. I am making it clear now. I do not want you to go there and come back in a coffin.”

[Translation: If I send you to the warfront, I will feel bad exposing you to the enemy, which is COVID.]

He said this is a more “valid reason” to stop doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers from leaving the country.

The Philippines in April temporarily banned doctors, nurses, microbiologists, and other health workers from leaving to work abroad as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. The controversial deployment ban was later lifted, allowing healthcare professionals with existing overseas employment contracts as of March 8 to leave the country to work abroad.

The number of healthcare workers infected with the coronavirus disease is now at 1,772. This constitutes 18.68 percent of the total number of infections in the country, which is at 9,485.

Last month, when the infection rate of medical workers in the country was only at 13 percent — the World Health Organization said the Philippines was an "outlier" compared to its neighboring countries, adding it was “worrisome” to see such a high number when health personnel are supposed to be fully protected by their gear.

Thirty-four healthcare workers have died in the country due to COVID-19.