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Cebu City cries out: ‘We need more docs, nurses’

CEBU CITY—With the rising number of COVID-19 cases and the shortage of health workers in this city, one doctor in the front line appealed on Thursday to his retired colleagues and to nurses waiting to be called for jobs abroad to help their fellow Cebuanos in their time of need.

Dr. Rene Josef Bullecer, who runs a private clinic and also practices at a hospital that is currently treating more than 30 new coronavirus patients, called on them to help relieve overworked physicians and nurses in the city’s hospitals which are overburdened by the pandemic.

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“As a health-care professional, I urge able doctors to serve the city. In the medical profession, there is no such thing as retirement,” he told the Inquirer.

“In the same manner, I know there are hundreds of nurses in the city who are still waiting to work abroad. I hope they will come out and make themselves available since this is the time to help each other,” he said.

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Bullecer, 54, is also country director of Human Life International, a Roman Catholic group which advocates prolife, profamily, and profaith causes, and is monitoring the COVID-19 situation in Cebu City and offers information to help stop the spread of the severe respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

More cops, soldiers

As of 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, the city health department recorded 4,539 COVID-19 cases, 100 deaths and 2,242 recoveries.

The government, which reimposed the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) on the city on Monday due to its growing number of COVID-19 cases, said it would deploy hundreds of police and soldiers to enforce the lockdown although Bullecer and other doctors had been crying out for more medical workers to aid their colleagues.

The Cebu Medical Society, in a statement early last week, raised concerns over the city’s “exhausted and overwhelmed health system.” It said hospitals were undermanned, essential medical equipment were scarce, while doctors and nurses were getting sick or burning out.

Since hospital beds for COVID-19 patients in Cebu City are full, many patients are placed on wait lists while some are refused admission.In a notice to the public earlier this week, Chong Hua Hospital, which claims to have the most number of beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients, said all 180 of them were occupied and that it could not accept any more such cases.

The city’s biggest hospital said it had 46 doctors, 79 nurses and 68 other hospital staff who were on quarantine.

Dr. Jaime Bernadas, the Department of Health (DOH) director for Central Visayas, had to tap the services of at least 100 “underboard physicians,” or medical graduates who are not yet licensed practitioners, to augment the city’s health-care workforce because it lacked doctors and also nurses.

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‘Extreme lockdown’

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, who was appointed by President Duterte to supervise the COVID-19 response of Cebu City, said hospitals could write him a request for more doctors and nurses so he could ask the DOH to send some.

Dr. Daisy Villa, the city health officer, suggested moving patients with mild COVID-19 symptoms to three quarantine facilities to decongest the hospitals.Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, a former military chief of staff, said soldiers and police commandos would be deployed to the city to enforce “an extreme lockdown similar to what we did in Metro Manila to keep people in their homes if they don’t have anything important to do outside.”

The city has a 1,200-strong police force.

“We have to show that we are serious in enforcing the ECQ,” Año said.

The soldiers would be coming from the Bicol region, Metro Manila and Western Visayas, he said.

In addition, 150 members of the police Special Action Force would be deployed, Año said.

At least 373 policemen from different regions had been sent to Cebu City to help implement the ECQ, according to Police Col. Cydric Earl Tamayo, the acting city police chief.

There have been much fewer vehicles and people on the streets, and many shops have been closed since Año canceled all 250,000 quarantine passes on Tuesday.

Checkpoints manned by policemen in combat uniform and village volunteers have been sprouting around the city.

Complaints, arrests

Some residents are already complaining about the stricter quarantine.

Rosa Montecalvo, 48, and a resident of Barangay Sambag I, denounced the presence of policemen and soldiers in her village.“It’s as if we, residents, are prisoners. We are afraid to go out. We look like criminals who are hiding. Is this the solution to the COVID-19 problem? It seems that they are adding salt to injury,” she said in Cebuano.

A 52-year-old male resident of Barangay Mambaling was dismayed by the restrictions imposed on the city, saying they hampered people’s livelihood.

He said the lockdown was so abrupt that most families were unable to prepare.

“We’re having a hard time earning money to buy food and here comes the restrictions. It just added more problems,” said the sari-sari store owner, who requested anonymity.

Under the stricter rules, people who have to buy food can only do so within their villages.

The lockdown exempts health-care workers, call center agents and bank employees.

During a 24-hour period ending at 6 a.m. on Thursday, police arrested 436 people for various infractions, such as violating the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, not wearing face masks and visiting other villages.

Armored vehicles

Bullecer said he welcomed the deployment of more policemen and soldiers but added that the government should also realize the need for more doctors and nurses.

Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia said the province was reinstituting its strict border controls with Cebu City starting 12:01 a.m. on June 27. “Travel to and from Cebu City will be severely restricted,” she said.

Cimatu, another former chief of staff, said armored vehicles would again be used to “enforce the law, guidelines and protocols supposed to be issued to them (city residents)” in the same way that they were deployed in Metro Manila when it was under ECQ.

But Vice President Leni Robredo expressed concern over the use of what she called “military tanks.”

“I don’t think this is a good visualization for people. Since this is a health pandemic, why are there military tanks on the road?” she said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

The government should take a more public health approach to stem the outbreak.

“Personally, I have great faith that if people understand why we need to do this … [and that] governance is a shared responsibility, they will be more cooperative, rather than when we frighten them,” she said. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE AND JHESSET O. ENANO

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link .

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TAGS: Cebu, Coronavirus, COVID-19 Philippines, Doctors, health crisis, nurses, pandemic
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