The Department of Health on Thursday said it was preparing for a “worst-case scenario” that includes tapping interns and uniformed personnel health workers as the country grapples with a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases.
President Rodrigo Duterte even urged rebel nurses to help the government battle the surge in cases, likely fueled by the more transmissible Omicron variant.
“To the nurses who are with the New People’s Army, there are a lot of you, go down [from the mountains]. I assure you, if you give us an advance notice that you are going down to participate, I will pay you. So do help. Afterwards, I will also guarantee that you can go back to your unit and fight another day,” the commander-in-chief said.
“If you do it, you will not be arrested… When you return, it’s the same guarantee, you can go back to the fields. Then let’s fight again,” the President said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the government plans to tap post-graduate interns and health care workers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.
“We have a program for them to volunteer to help with our regular human resource for health and we also have an augmentation program. We are making sure that all available healthcare professionals will be on deck and prepare for a worst-case scenario,” Duque said.
Should hospitals in Metro Manila become overwhelmed again due to the high number of people testing positive for COVID-19, Duque said frontliners from the provinces can be deployed.
Duterte said he would increase the special risk allowance for volunteer health workers, which to date was at around P5,000 according to Duque.
“I think that P5,000 is too small, considering the attendant danger. They should be given more. Take into account the possibility of danger – they themselves can get the virus,” the President said.
“I will increase it, but I cannot say by how much yet,” Duterte said.
As this developed, Pasay City General Hospital (PCGH) said Thursday it would no longer accept patients as it has reached full capacity because of an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Dr. John Victor de Gracia, PCGH officer-in-charge, said the hospital reached full capacity for COVID-19 patients in ICU beds, ward beds, emergency isolation rooms and anteroom.
Gracia said 44 health care workers, mostly nurses and ancillary personnel, were either in isolation or had close contact exposure and awaiting their swab test results.
In other developments:
• The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) will be closing the facility’s maternity ward for the time being due to a surge in COVID-19 patients and shortage of hospital staff, its spokesperson said Thursday. PGH spokesman Jonas Del Rosario said they are looking into closing the maternity ward for at least 24 to 48 hours to give them time to recalibrate. “Two things happened. Our patients increased so we needed to discharge some of them and then some of our staff got COVID during the holidays,” Del Rosario said in Filipino.
• Almost half of the beds dedicated for COVID-19 patients at the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP) are now occupied, the center’s spokesperson said on Thursday. LCP spokesman Dr. Norberto Francisco, in an interview on radio dzBB, said a total of 42 beds out of the 87 dedicated hospital beds are occupied. However, Francisco said this is less than half of the hospital’s patients during previous surges.
• Dr. Maricar Limpin, of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), said that more and more healthcare workers need to be isolated after contacting COVID-19. “There are fewer people in the workforce after contacting COVID. Not just doctors and nurses, but other staff,” she said in Filipino. The Alliance of Health Workers Philippines (AHW) echoed this statement, saying that health care workers must be kept healthy so there would be people left to look after patients.