CEBU

Seares: Could health workers 'revolt' with scalpels, forceps? Yet their grievance tells generals, Change battle plans on Covid.

News Sense

EIGHTY medical associations representing 80,000 doctors and a million nurses signed an open letter, asking President Rodrigo Duterte to give them at least two weeks of breathing space by restoring Metro Manila and surrounding provinces to ECQ or enhanced community quarantine until August 15.

As of Sunday (August 2), the day the doctors' story broke, 5,032 new cases were piled on the country's recorded infections of 103,185 with the death toll rising by 20 to 2,059.

In their publicized petition, the doctors said:

[1] "We are waging a losing battle against Covid-19." The generals in the battle against Covid need another plan of action and to refine strategies: "consolidated, definitive."

[2] "An increasing number" of health workers have fallen sick or left their jobs. Some "packed" hospitals are already refusing patients.

[3] The government blames poor compliance with health rules for the surge in infections. Yet, after harsh lockdowns up to mid-March, it is now easing restrictions to allow people to return to work and reopen the economy.

How Duterte responded

President Duterte changed the quarantine status of Metro Manila and nearby provinces Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan, until August 18, from general quarantine (GCQ) to modified enhanced quarantine (MECQ). Not the ECQ the petition asked for but a notch harsher than the July 16-31 GCQ.

The order will affect about 25 million people, or one-fourth of the country's 100-million-plus population. It will also close some businesses that can operate under GCQ but not under MECQ. To enforce the order, work and quarantine passes will be required.

The President also approved the hiring of 10,000 more medical practitioners to ease the strain on the work force and additional cash benefits for health workers.

Those moves though did not come without a scolding, topped by a dare to the health workers to stage "a revolution."

What they did and didn't do

The doctors and nurses publicized a petition consisting of (a) an assessment of the anti-Covid campaign, including an exhausted and decreasing work force, (b) a suggestion on how to turn the tide of battle, and (c) a request for a two-week pause , breather or time-out by easing the pressure on the health-care system through the tightening of restrictions on the people.

Did they threaten to revolt? The open letter didn't mention it or even just hinted. Did they demean the government? Intended or not, the effect was embarrassment of the people leading the campaign against the plague, who include necessarily the President. It signified that the frontliners or most of them didn't agree with the line of defense and offense against the virus.

The doctors, Duterte said, could have written a letter or asked for an audience, which probably wouldn't have shaken up the policy-makers but wouldn't be as embarrassing to the crisis managers. No administration wants to be told in public that what it has been doing is not working.

Where did that come from?

The explosion was abrupt and sudden. The President's monologue was prefaced with empathy for the health workers, recognizing that they are "bone-weary" after treating and handling patients for more than five months.

Then his words went harsh, telling the health workers they were trying to "demean" the government, presenting their "agony" as if they were "about ready to stop work." "Huwag naman, kawawa ang ating mga kababayan."

But don't shout revolution, Duterte said. But if you speak of revolution, go ahead, try it. "Sirain, patayin natin lahat ng mga may Covid. Is that what you want? We can always end our existence in this manner."

The doctors did not shout revolution. Nor intended to do so, even out of anger or despair. The medical profession is the most unlikely source of rebels and terrorists. Their oath holds them to the promise of preserving life, not taking them. And the universal reputation is that they take their oath seriously, unlike many other professionals.

Why the public forum

The President's communicators can explain the rant as expression of his love for his constituents who are victimized by Covid. Or the familiar "Get used to him already."

His critics are expected to seize it as support to their argument that the policy-makers reject any criticism of government action or policy.

What both sides can agree on is that the anti-virus fighters must present themselves as a unified force. The health workers' publicized petition to government exposes cracks in the phalanx.

IATF apparently needs to listen more to the doctors and nurses. They clambered up the public forum apparently because the conditions at the much-referenced "frontline" had long been not seen and improved.


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