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More nurses allowed to leave as Philippines eases travel ban

MANILA (Reuters) - More than a thousand Philippine health workers will finally be allowed to take jobs abroad following President Rodrigo Duterte decision to ease their travel ban, but they are not celebrating yet and want a total lifting of restrictions.

FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker takes blood sample from a passenger at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) drive-thru testing center in Manila, Philippines, July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo

Thousands of health workers, who call themselves “priso-nurses”, had appealed to the government to let them take jobs abroad, Reuters reported last week. The nurses say they feel underpaid, under-appreciated and unprotected in the Philippines.

The government in April barred nurses, doctors and other medical workers from leaving, saying they were needed to fight the coronavirus crisis at home. The Philippines has Southeast Asia’s highest infection numbers, with 290,190 cases, of which 4,999 died.

Those Duterte exempted from the ban will now include any workers with overseas contracts and documentation completed as of Aug. 31, presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a media briefing on Monday.

So far only those with contracts before March 8 have been allowed to travel.

Among the 1,500 health workers expected to benefit from the easing was nurse Jordan Jugo, 33, who has a job in Britain.

“My mother was so happy she was crying when I called her to share the news,” Jugo told Reuters. “But our battle is not yet over because we demand for the total lifting.”

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.

The pandemic has highlighted the plight of nurses in the Philippines, where the healthcare system is already short-handed. In Germany there are 430 doctors and nurses per 10,000 people. In the Philippines, there are 65.

Maristela Abenojar, president of the Filipino Nurses United (FNU), said the easing was only a “partial victory”.

Abenojar called for the ban to be removed and for salaries of all nurses in the country to be raised.

“That is the only way to entice more nurses to stay,” she told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty

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