Philippines relaxes ban on nurses leaving for jobs overseas amid coronavirus pandemic

The Philippines barred health workers from leaving for overseas work.
The Philippines barred health workers from leaving for overseas work.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - The Philippines is allowing health workers with existing overseas contracts to leave, relaxing an order earlier this month to keep them in the country to reinforce the country's healthcare system amid the pandemic.

"Nurses, other health workers with existing contracts of work abroad can leave," Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, who has called the ban unconstitutional, tweeted on Monday night (April 13).

But he said future applications for health-care jobs abroad would be "frozen until further notice".

President Rodrigo Duterte has said that while he doesn't blame the nurses who wish to return overseas and won't hold them against their will, the situation empowers the state to impose a ban.

Medical professionals with signed contracts as of March 8 will be allowed to leave, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said at a televised briefing on Tuesday. The government will also conduct an emergency hiring of more health workers.

The Philippines last week barred doctors, nurses and other health workers from leaving for overseas work for the duration of the state of emergency.

"I'm not blaming anyone. If the Filipino nurses would rather serve in another country for other people, that's fine by me," Duterte said. He said his opinion could change if the situation worsens.

The Philippines recorded 4,932 coronavirus cases as of Monday, the most in South-east Asia, with deaths reaching 315. It has locked down its main island of 60 million people since mid-March to the end of the month.