MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - The Philippines has temporarily barred doctors, nurses and other health workers from leaving for overseas work amid the coronavirus outbreak, a move that irked its top diplomat who pledged to fight the ban.
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration issued a resolution on April 2 halting the departure of workers in 14 medical professions for the duration of the nation's state of emergency.
The ban should have been announced weeks ago instead of catching Filipino workers by surprise, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said in his official Twitter account.
Nurses returning to their posts at the UK's National Health Service were recently stopped at the Manila airport, he said.
"The fight is not over. We will fight the ban in the Cabinet," Locsin said on Twitter. "We will never surrender our constitutional right to travel and our contractual right to work where there is need for work."
The Philippines, which sends thousands of medical practitioners to work overseas, seeks to reinforce a healthcare system overwhelmed by the pandemic. There were 4,195 coronavirus cases as of Friday, with deaths reaching 221 including at least a dozen health workers.
"In the interest of national security, public safety or public health, as may be provided by law," the government can curtail travel, according to its charter.
The nation only has six doctors for every 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation, among the lowest in the region.
Singapore's ratio is almost 23 and Malaysia is at 15.36.
More than 30,000 doctors, nurses, medical technicians and other health workers left the Philippines in 2010, according to latest available data.