Medical reservists to the rescue as Manila steps up virus battle

Police officers instruct a driver as they implement stricter quarantine measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the border of Bulacan province and Caloocan city. (AP)
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Updated 11 August 2020

Medical reservists to the rescue as Manila steps up virus battle

  • 3,000 personnel face call-up amid warnings country is losing COVID-19 war

MANILA: The Philippines is considering calling up more than 3,000 military medical reservists to help in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes as a rising number of infections threatens to overwhelm the country’s struggling health care system. 

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that a list had been drawn up of of 380 doctors and nurses, as well as 3,000 reservists with medical training who can be mobilized to help COVID-19 patients.

In a televised interview, Lorenzana said talks on calling up medical reservists took place at a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte last week after warnings of a shortage of medical personnel in Manila.

He said the message from medical groups that staff were overwhelmed and exhausted sent a “distress signal to the nation.”

Hospital staff also warned that the country “is waging a losing battle against COVID-19.”

“We have medical reserves. All we have to do is find out where they are now,” Lorenzana said.

“As of last week we were able to get about 380 doctors and nurses, plus about 3,000 other medical personnel, including medical aides and medical technicians,” he added.

If the plan to mobilize medical reservists is pushed through, the defense department will deploy them to help in Manila and other areas with high rates of COVID-19 infection.

The defense secretary said he is confident many of the reservists will respond once they are called to duty.

Asked if the defense department has a timetable for their deployment, Lorenzana said: “We have to process them, but first we will have to get a go signal from the Department of Budget and Management because we need money to mobilize these people. We have to pay their salary and allowances.

“I have directed the Philippines armed forces to estimate how much we money we need,” he said.

Last week Duterte ordered a strict quarantine to be reimposed in capital and surrounding provinces until Aug. 18.

He said this will give the government time to refine its pandemic strategies and offer a “breather” to exhausted front-line workers.

Under the curfew people will be restricted to essential travel and mass transport will be closed.

As of Monday, the Philippines had recorded 129,913 COVID-19 cases, with 67,673 recoveries and 2,270 deaths.


Jewish pilgrims quit Ukraine border campout over virus entry ban

Updated 28 min 10 sec ago

Jewish pilgrims quit Ukraine border campout over virus entry ban

  • The standoff between pilgrims and armed Ukrainian security services sparked tensions at the Novi Yarylovychi border crossing and inflamed a diplomatic row between Minsk and Kiev
  • Ukrainian border guard spokesman Andriy Demchenko said that most pilgrims had returned to Belarus and only “a few pilgrims” hoping to enter Ukraine remained at the crossing point

KIEV: More than 1,000 Jewish pilgrims who massed for several days along Ukraine’s border gave up hope of entering the country on Friday after being turned back due to coronavirus restrictions.
The Orthodox-Jewish believers including hundreds of children camped out this week in no-man’s land between the Ukrainian and Belarusian border crossings ahead of Jewish New Year celebrations this weekend.
Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews travel to the central Ukrainian city of Uman every Jewish New Year to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
The standoff between pilgrims and armed Ukrainian security services sparked tensions at the Novi Yarylovychi border crossing and inflamed a diplomatic row between Minsk and Kiev.
Ukrainian border guard spokesman Andriy Demchenko told AFP Friday that most pilgrims had returned to Belarus and only “a few pilgrims” hoping to enter Ukraine remained at the crossing point.
Belarus, which earlier said the pilgrims should be allowed to visit holy sites in Ukraine, confirmed that fewer than a dozen people were attempting to cross.
Belarus’s Border Committee representative Anton Bychkovskiy said pilgrims were “leaving the border en masse” and traveling onwards to nearby cities by bus and taxi.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday wished Jews a happy New Year and acknowledged the country had been “forced to limit mass events” over safety concerns.
The believers — mainly Israeli, but also American and French — departed for Uman this year even though both the Ukrainian and Israeli governments last month urged them not to travel because of the pandemic.
An Israeli minister on Thursday called on those camping out on the border to return home and uphold quarantine rules on arrival in Israel.
Kiev closed its borders for most of the month of September citing a growing number of coronavirus infections, but the pilgrims attempted to bypass the restrictions by traveling through Belarus.
Ukrainian border guards announced Friday they had arrested several pilgrims, including Israeli and US citizens, trying to enter the country illegally from Hungary, Poland and Romania.
Kiev has reported more than 169,000 cases of coronavirus and 3,468 fatalities. On Thursday, officials registered a record one-day increase in infections.
The standoff on the border aggravated strained ties between Kiev and Minsk, which have traded barbs over disputed presidential elections in Belarus last month.
Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko earlier instructed officials to negotiate a travel corridor with Ukraine and offered to provide buses to transport religious believers to holy sites in Ukraine.
Kiev in turn accused Belarusian authorities of giving false hope to the Hasidic pilgrims that they would be allowed to travel to Uman.
Both Ukraine and Israel are keen to avoid a spike in coronavirus infections.
Israel imposed a second nationwide lockdown on Friday to tackle one of the world’s highest coronavirus infection rates, despite public protests over the new blow to the economy.
The three-week shutdown starts just hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.
Meanwhile, up to 3,000 Hasidic Jews have arrived in Uman for the celebrations entering Ukraine before the ban, police said.
Law enforcement has tightened security near Rabbi Nahman’s tomb where pilgrims have congregated.