Doctors and nurses in the Philippines urge government to put Manila back on coronavirus lockdown

Health workers in Manila on July 30, 2020.
Health workers in Manila on July 30, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA – Warning that the country’s healthcare system is on the brink of collapse, dozens of Philippine doctors’ and nurses’ groups urged the government on Saturday (Aug 1) to put Metropolitan Manila and the surrounding towns back on lockdown for at least two weeks.

“The health sector cannot hold the line for much longer,” they said in a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte that was signed by the heads of some 40 medical societies.

“Our healthcare system has been overwhelmed.

“We are waging a losing battle against Covid-19 and we need to draw up a consolidated, definitive plan of action,” they said.

The groups called for a “timeout” from Aug 1 to 15, so that the government and the health sector could draw up a better plan to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Current plans were not working, they insisted, citing a surge of over 50,000 infections in the past month (July) alone.

The Health Ministry reported 4,963 new cases on Saturday (August 1), in what was the country’s largest single-day increase of new coronavirus cases on record. More than half of the cases came from NCR and IV-A, a neighboring region.

Saturday’s tally brought the country’s caseload to 98,232. Over 50,000 cases were recorded in July alone, when many of the sweeping shelter-at-home restrictions in place since May were eased to restart a stalled economy.

Despite the surge, Mr Duterte has decided to stay the course until mid-August.

On Wednesday, a task force coordinating efforts to roll back the outbreak allowed gyms, internet cafes, tutorial and review centres, pet clinics and drive-in cinemas to reopen.

Movement restrictions for children and the elderly remain but the business operations - from restaurants to gyms - can proceed, albeit in a more limited way.

The Ospital ng Maynila, one of the biggest public hospitals in the capital, told ABS-CBN News it had been seeing “four to six DOAs (dead on arrival)” each day, as the number of patients desperate to be admitted surged in the last two weeks of July.

Most of those arriving dead had already been shuttled from one hospital to another and had been turned away, Dr Karen Kaye Uy, the hospital’s chief resident for internal medicine, told the network.

Dr Karl Laqui, the hospital’s officer in charge, said nearly a dozen of the hospital’s own staff, many of whom had no contact with infected patients, were now down with Covid-19.

“We have people in surgery, billing, engineering. It’s not coming from the patients anymore. The infection is spreading from personnel to personnel, which is scary,” he told ABS-CBN.

The medical groups said in their letter to Mr Duterte many health professionals were resigning “because of fear, fatigue, and poor working conditions.” 

“Facilities have had to close because of these problems,” they said.

They called for a “comprehensive, extensive plan” to contain the outbreak and for the health department to take the lead.

A task force overseeing efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19 is being led by a former military general.

They noted the poor implementation of case finding and isolation strategies, failure of the Health Ministry to conduct proper contact tracing, lack of transport and work safety procedures, and poor public compliance with health safety measures.

“Contact tracing is failing miserably,” they said, pointing out that while guidelines exist, “compliance (by local government officials) is optional.”

“The progressive lifting of quarantine has inadvertently fuelled public misconception that the pandemic is getting better. It is not,” they added.

Mr Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said in response that “the strict lockdown in Metro Manila has served its purpose and we need to intensify other strategies.”

“Community quarantine alone, we repeat, is an insufficient response in controlling Covid-19,” he said, adding that the government was hiring more health care workers to scale up hospital capacity.

This call from health professionals came just a day after President Duterte promised a vaccine by December 2020, saying he was confident the situation would be back to normal by then.