Philippines ends overseas travel ban on health care workers

Philippines ends overseas travel ban on health care workers
Newly graduated nurses gesture while having their picture taken by a friend before the oath taking ceremony of the professional nurses inside a mall in Manila. (REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo)
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Updated 21 November 2020

Philippines ends overseas travel ban on health care workers

Philippines ends overseas travel ban on health care workers
  • Improving COVID-19 situation paves way for lifting of ban
  • Gov’t to allow 5,000 health care workers to leave annually

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved ending a ban on deploying the nation’s health care workers, his labor minister said on Saturday, clearing the way for thousands of nurses to take up jobs overseas.
“The president already approved the lifting of the temporary suspension of deployment of nurses and other medical workers,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello told Reuters.
Bello said the spread of the novel coronavirus was slowing down in the country and conditions were improving, so the government could afford to let its health care workers leave.
The Philippines has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia, but daily case numbers and death rates have dropped.
To ensure the Philippines has enough medical professionals to continue to fight the pandemic at home, only 5,000 health care workers will be allowed to leave every year, Bello said.
“We are starting only with a cap of 5,000 so we will not run out (of medical workers), but this may increase eventually,” Bello said.
Last year, almost 17,000 nurses signed overseas work contracts data from the Commission on Higher Education and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration shows.
The government in April barred nurses, doctors and other medical workers from leaving, saying they were needed to fight the coronavirus crisis at home.
Thousands of health workers, who call themselves “priso-nurses,” had appealed to the government to let them take jobs abroad, Reuters reported in September. The nurses say they feel underpaid, under-appreciated and unprotected in the Philippines.
While the lifting of the travel ban was a “welcome development,” Maristela Abenojar, President of Filipino Nurses United, challenged the government to make true its commitment to give its nurses better pay and benefits if it wants them to stay.
Filipino health workers are on the front lines of the pandemic at hospitals in the United States, Europe and the Middle East as well as at home.
New coronavirus cases in the Philippines have remained below 2,000 since Nov. 10, while deaths, which totalled 8,025 as of Nov. 20 only equal 1.93% of the country’s 415,067 cases.
Hospital bed occupancy has also eased from critical levels, and the government has been gradually easing quarantine restrictions to jumpstart the coronavirus-hit economy.


EU weighs options as Turkey stand-off grinds on

Updated 19 min 21 sec ago

EU weighs options as Turkey stand-off grinds on

EU weighs options as Turkey stand-off grinds on
BRUSSELS: European Council chief Charles Michel said Friday that Turkey has not de-escalated its stand-off with Greece and warned EU members now need to consider tougher options.
“I think that the cat and mouse game needs to end,” Michel said, referring to Turkey’s repeated incursions into Greek waters with gas exploration vessels.
“We will have a debate at the European summit on December 10 and we are ready to use the means at our disposal,” he added.
Next week’s EU summit will be held in Brussels with leaders meeting face-to-face after videoconferences were held as a coronavirus prevention measure.
One possibility, backed by some members, would be economic sanctions, but many states are not convinced.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told a conference in Italy “the EU Council will have to take the decision that only the EU can take, because the sanctions regime, it’s a matter for the member states.”
“There are not very many positive signals that came from Turkey during these months — in Cyprus and on the drilling, the talks between Greece and Turkey have not been developing,” he said.
Turkey has been challenging Greece over maritime territory in the Eastern Mediterranean, repeatedly sending a gas exploration vessel into Greek waters.
Both countries are NATO members and the alliance has set up a “de-confliction mechanism” to help avoid accidental military clashes.


But a German-led diplomatic approach to Ankara has made little progress in resolving the underlying issues, and some EU members — notably France and Greece itself — are pushing for stronger action.
Other EU capitals are more cautious, some fearing an escalating stand-off could see Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government once again allow a wave of refugees to head for EU borders.
Michel, who will host the summit, expressed Europe’s frustration.
“In October, after a very dense and strategic high level exchange, we defined a very positive offer to Turkey, we extended our hands,” he told a news conference to mark his first year in office.
“But the condition to move in that area is that Turkey needs to stop unilateral provocations, hostile statements, and the non-respect of international principles and rules-based society.
“Well, since October, things have not been very positive,” Michel noted.
“Since that time, we’ve seen that there have been unilateral acts that have taken place, a hostile rhetoric has been expressed.”
Backed by Turkish navy frigates, the research vessel the Oruc Reis was first deployed in August and again in October to the waters off Kastellorizo island, in defiance of EU and US calls to stop.
It returned to port again in October, but may go back to the disputed zone while Ankara says that, with its long Mediterranean coastline, its claim to sovereign waters in the region is stronger than Greece’s, which is based on its ownership of tiny Kastellorizo.