Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said medical workers who have contracted Chinese coronavirus while treating patients and died were “lucky” to have died in service to the country, in a national address on Monday night.
The statement comes as Philippine health workers face discrimination and physical attacks, while suffering from a shortage of protective medical gear.
“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,” Duterte declared. “It would be an honor to die for your country, I assure you.”
The controversial statement was made as medical workers across the Philippines suffer from a lack of sufficient protective gear and equipment to properly treat Chinese coronavirus patients, making them more vulnerable to infection. Many of these workers have contracted the Chinese coronavirus and died as a result.
At least 12 doctors have died in the Philippines from the Chinese coronavirus. The plight of Philippine medical workers in their fight against the Chinese coronavirus has highlighted a disparity between the country’s political elite and those on the frontlines. Recent reports revealed that elites in the Philippines enjoy privileges such as prioritized access to scarce testing kits and a lack of enforcement of quarantine restrictions. Meanwhile, doctors and nurses risk their lives without proper supplies and equipment.
The Philippines has experienced a recent surge in its number of cases. On Tuesday, the country reported its largest daily increase in Chinese coronavirus deaths and infections. An additional ten deaths brought the overall count to 88, while the number of infections increased by 538 to total 2,084.
This spike in new cases has overburdened the healthcare system. Several hospitals have announced that they have reached full capacity.
Apart from the heightened risk of their jobs, Philippine health workers also face threats of physical assault, harassment, and discrimination, according to local reports.
In Sultan Kudarat, a group of five individuals “ganged up” on a nurse and splattered bleach on his face. Some healthcare workers have been refused access to public transportation and laundry facilities. Others have been blocked and fined at checkpoints, and even evicted from their homes.
Responding to recent reports of discrimination and abuse towards health workers, the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) issued a statement on Sunday urging the public to treat health workers with dignity.
“Our healthcare workers have responded to our country’s need with dedication, courage, and selflessness,” the statement read. “This is not the time for us to turn our backs on them. It is not enough that we thank them. We need to protect them too.”
Discrimination against healthcare workers treating Chinese coronavirus patients has become an international phenomenon, with reports surfacing of harassment and abuse in other regions, such as India and the United Kingdom, as well.
Duterte closed off the entire island of Luzon, where Manila is located, on March 16, in a bid to stem the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. Now in its third week, the total lockdown continues as the President increases national and executive powers in his fight to stop the Chinese coronavirus from spreading.