Filipino nurses are tired and losing hope as they face a fresh coronavirus infection surge that had exceeded single-day case reports from last year’s peak, their group said Saturday, even as they didn’t rule out the possibility of asking for a timeout if COVID-19 cases continue to increase.
The Filipino Nurses United (FNU) said the situation of health care workers had gotten much worse than at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March last year.
At the same time, FNU called for the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III amid the rising number of COVID-19 cases among nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers.
Meanwhile, the state-run Philippine General Hospital, feeling it is understaffed because some of its workers are getting sick, is not ruling out the possibility of asking for a timeout as they did last year, its spokesman said Saturday.
“We have yet to ask for a timeout but we’re already feeling the spike in cases. At the same time, we are understaffed because we have health care workers who are sick and that affected us in manning our posts, we feel tired so there’s a possibility, if this spills over, that we’ll ask for a timeout,” PGH spokesman Dr. Jonas del Rosario said.
Only the day before, the Philippines recorded a single day tally at more than 7,000 cases.
Nurse Jaymee de Guzman said: “It’s much worse. We’re losing hope. Many have left for work abroad and we can’t blame them because throughout the year we’ve made several calls to the government but none of them were addressed, and here we are again, the numbers are way higher than last year.”
De Guzman is FNU’s national treasurer and works at government-run San Lazaro Hospital in Manila, in the same compound that holds the DOH headquarters.
“We hope that our leadership will be replaced by a more competent Secretary of Health. Secretary Duque must resign for the betterment of our health,” the FNU said in a statement.
Also, the group said it mourns the passing of its colleagues, one at the Philippine Heart Center and the other at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, after reportedly succumbing to COVID-19.
In an interview on TeleRadyo, Del Rosario said they were concerned about projections that COVID-19 cases could further increase by the end of the month even with the enforcement of a unified curfew in Metro Manila, whose population swells to 15 million during daytime.
While the majority of cases are mild, the Department of Health has said officials still see many patients trooping to hospitals.
At the height of virus cases in August last year, medical workers appealed for a timeout as the country’s health system struggled to respond to the surge. This prompted the government to enforce a two-week modified enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila to contain the virus spread.
“We have yet to feel the effects of the curfew as we continue to see many people going to the PGH. Many are on the waitlist. Currently, 164 patients are admitted,” he said.
Del Rosario said they had to expand their operations to accommodate patients. From 180 beds, they expanded their COVID bed capacity to 225, adding the Intensive Care Unit is also full.
At the same time, the PGH is appealing for help from other hospitals to take in non-COVID patients as it concentrates on COVID cases.
The country’s record last Friday was 7,103 new COVID-19 cases, the highest recorded daily tally since the pandemic began a year ago. This raised the country’s total number of infections to 648,066.
“We feel those numbers. We feel it in the hospital but we’re full and even employees have tested positive. What’s ironic is that just when the vaccination program started, that’s also the time when the number of positive patients increased,” she said.
De Guzman said they were experiencing again a shortage in personal protective equipment like face shields, and also confronting understaffing issues as many have decided to leave for work abroad and others have tested positive for the virus.
They have also yet to receive benefits promised to them by the government.
She added: “It’s much harder on us, there’s no motivation and we’re really demoralized. But even with a heavy heart and we’re very tired, we continue to serve.
“They question our patriotism because many went abroad and yet we are here and serving. This time, can we question their humanity towards the health workers, that they treat us humanely, and also, if they have benefits to give, they should really give it to us because we don’t feel it?”
Duque urged to resign
“We are extremely alarmed at the increasing number of nurses, doctors and other health workers especially those in the frontline, being infected by COVID-19, with 5,355 nurses comprising 36% of the 14,963 infected cases of health workers,” the FNU said, citing data from the DOH.
Further, the group said that the surge of COVID-19 cases, especially in Metro Manila in recent days, is “worrisome” with not lower than 3,000 reported daily cases, and the all-time high record of 7,103 new infections.
There was no immediately available comment from Duque or from Malacanang.
Tribute to frontliners
A leader of the House of Representatives paid tribute to frontliners who “tirelessly worked” in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.
Deputy Speaker and Antique Rep. Loren Legarda said these frontliners included doctors, nurses, health workers, policemen and members of the armed forces, the utility staff, those working in groceries and retail, food and cargo delivery drivers, fisherfolk and farmers, market vendors, journalists, security personnel, the overseas Filipino Workers, and the dedicated government workers, both at the national and local levels.
“It has been a year since lockdowns were imposed due to the pandemic and these restrictions have gravely affected many aspects of our lives,” said Legarda, known environment advocate.
“Our invisible enemy has claimed thousands of lives, has affected the health of our people, and our very own frontliners were not spared. Yet they continue to render their service under tremendous stress and danger despite knowing that they are exposing themselves to the threat of the virus,” she added.
Legarda also welcomed the prioritization of the frontliners in the roll-out of the national vaccination program, saying that they need this protection the most.
Legarda said she commended the country’s frontliners,” for their sacrifices and unparalleled contribution in our fight against COVID-19.
“They have helped the public survive and our communities to thrive amidst this pandemic as they courageously performed their duties to provide the essential services that we need in these trying times.”
The three-term senator co-authored Republic Act 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, which provides a P165 billion pandemic response fund that will be used to save the economy and protect health care workers.