As hospitals struggle, Duterte says COVID-19 frontliners are 'lucky' to die for country

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
As hospitals struggle, Duterte says COVID-19 frontliners are 'lucky' to die for country
Health workers of St. Jude Family Hospital in Los Baños, Laguna receive on March 25, 2020 donated personal protective equipment from different business sectors in the province.
The STAR / Walter Bollozos

MANILA, Philippines — Healthcare workers are falling sick because they are not getting enough protection but President Rodrigo Duterte said the frontliners who lost their battle to the coronavirus disease were “lucky” to have died in the service of the nation.

“May mga doktor na, mga nurses, attendants, namatay. Sila ‘yung nasawi ang buhay para lang makatulong sa kapwa. Napakaswerte nila. Namatay sila para sa bayan. Iyon ang dapat ang rason na bakit tayo mamatay,” Duterte said late Monday night.

(There are doctors, nurses, attendants who have died. They are the ones who passed away helping others. They are so lucky. They died for the country. That should be the reason why we die.)

“It would be an honor to die for your country, I assure you,” the chief executive added.

At least 12 doctors have died in the Philippines from the new coronavirus, highlighting an unfortunate reality of the evolving health crisis: those on the frontlines face a higher risk of contracting the disease.

The surge in the number of COVID-19 cases and persons suspected to have infection overwhelms hospitals in the country, with several healthcare facilities announcing they had reached full capacity and would no longer accept new coronavirus cases.

Healthcare workers in the Philippines also deal with a shortage of supplies such as masks, suits and protective gear, making frontliners even more susceptible to the virus while treating patients.

Exposure to individuals infected with COVID-19 forces also forces hospital staff to undergo 14-day self quarantine.

Frontliners are discriminated against, too

Aside from heightened risks that come with their job, healthcare workers also face physical assault, harassment and discrimination.

In Sultan Kudarat, a group “ganged up” on a nurse and splattered bleach on his face.

Some healthcare workers were also refused access to public transportation and laundry and blocked and fined at checkpoints. Others were evicted from their homes.

These reports prompted the Department of Health to ask the public to extend understanding and compassion to healthcare workers.

“Our healthcare workers have responded to our country’s need with dedication, courage and selflessness. This is not the time for us to turn our backs on them,” DOH said.

“It is not enough that we thank them. We need to protect them too,” the agency added.

‘They’re not lucky’

Duterte’s statement drew strong criticism online, with social media users saying the deaths of the doctors could have been prevented if they were given enough protection.

“Our health workers who died from COVID-19 were not lucky. Our health workers should not have been dying in the first place if they had been given ample PPEs and access to testing,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said

“These deaths could have been prevented or lessened if your administration had acted sooner,” physician Jai Cabajar said.

The main island of Luzon entered its third week of enhanced community quarantine to arrest the spread of the contagion that has now infected 1,546 people in the Philippines—78 of whom have died.

There are additional 920 patients under investigation and 6,321 persons under monitoring. 

Just a little over 3,300 people have been tested since health authorities first detected a COVID-19 infection in late January.

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