MANILA: The Philippines is considering calling up more than 3,000 military medical reservists to help in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
The move comes as a rising number of infections threatens to overwhelm the country’s struggling health care system.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that a list had been drawn up of of 380 doctors and nurses, as well as 3,000 reservists with medical training who can be mobilized to help COVID-19 patients.
In a televised interview, Lorenzana said talks on calling up medical reservists took place at a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte last week after warnings of a shortage of medical personnel in Manila.
He said the message from medical groups that staff were overwhelmed and exhausted sent a “distress signal to the nation.”
Hospital staff also warned that the country “is waging a losing battle against COVID-19.”
“We have medical reserves. All we have to do is find out where they are now,” Lorenzana said.
“As of last week we were able to get about 380 doctors and nurses, plus about 3,000 other medical personnel, including medical aides and medical technicians,” he added.
If the plan to mobilize medical reservists is pushed through, the defense department will deploy them to help in Manila and other areas with high rates of COVID-19 infection.
The defense secretary said he is confident many of the reservists will respond once they are called to duty.
Asked if the defense department has a timetable for their deployment, Lorenzana said: “We have to process them, but first we will have to get a go signal from the Department of Budget and Management because we need money to mobilize these people. We have to pay their salary and allowances.
“I have directed the Philippines armed forces to estimate how much we money we need,” he said.
Last week Duterte ordered a strict quarantine to be reimposed in capital and surrounding provinces until Aug. 18.
He said this will give the government time to refine its pandemic strategies and offer a “breather” to exhausted front-line workers.
Under the curfew people will be restricted to essential travel and mass transport will be closed.
As of Monday, the Philippines had recorded 129,913 COVID-19 cases, with 67,673 recoveries and 2,270 deaths.