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Palace: No plans to send Ebola fighters

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Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines–The Philippines is unlikely to send medical workers to Ebola-stricken countries to assist in containing the worst outbreak of the deadly disease in recent history, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said there was “no decision and no indication” the government would be dispatching health workers to the countries where the Ebola virus has spread and claimed more than 4,000 lives.

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“Notice that the focus and thrust of our efforts is to lay down our defense [against the virus entering the country] and preparing for the repatriation of our nationals, peacekeepers and workers,” Coloma said at a press briefing.

As for joining the global humanitarian effort to contain the spread of the disease, Coloma said President Aquino subscribed to other forms of assistance like making donations.

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“The priority of our President and the government is to strengthen the defense of our country and to ensure the health and safety of the Filipinos who are in the area of greatest peril—the West African nations. That is the focus of our efforts now,” he said.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona was quoted last Friday as saying the government would study the possibility of sending health workers to the Ebola-stricken countries as the Philippines’ contribution to the international effort to prevent the deadly disease from spreading further.

But he said there were many implications and factors to consider, especially the safety and security of the medical workers that would be sent to West Africa.

Bring them home

On Monday, Aquino said the Filipinos in the Ebola-stricken countries may have to be brought home while stressing the need for stricter measures to prevent the virus from entering the country.

On Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it would call for the voluntary repatriation of more than 3,000 Filipinos in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone in mid-November when it plans to raise the alert level in those countries from 2 to 3 because of the Ebola outbreak there.

DFA spokesman and Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said the DFA was giving itself until mid-November to raise the alert level to 3 and undertake the voluntary repatriation of Filipinos from the three West African nations because the government has to prepare for it.

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“We are giving ourselves one month to make sure all mechanisms are in place for agencies here,” he told a press briefing.

The DFA earlier considered raising the alert level in the three West African countries from 2 to 4 but withdrew the plan when Filipinos there objected.

Jose acknowledged that many Filipinos had expressed the desire to remain in the three nations, but the government was giving those who may want to come home that option, “since the situation is not getting any better.”

He said the one-month preparation will see the government being able to “receive our nationals” since there are no Philippine embassies or consulates in the three countries.

“To be able to operationalize this plan we should have people on the ground,” Jose said.

No regular flights

Because there are no more regular flights out of those countries, the government will have to make land transportation arrangements, buy them airline tickets and then fly them out (from other countries), he said.

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are under the jurisdiction of the Philippine Embassy in Kenya.

Coloma on Tuesday said there were 200 Filipino workers in Liberia and 145 Filipino peacekeepers who were part of the UN peacekeeping force. In Guinea, there were 511 Filipino workers and in Sierra Leone 1,044.

Jose explained that under alert level 3, the employers of the OFWs would pay for the repatriation of those wanting to return to the Philippines.

He said the government only shouldered repatriation costs when alert level 4 was raised, meaning a mandatory evacuation and repatriation of Filipinos had been ordered.

But in case employers are unwilling to shoulder the costs of bringing their Filipino employees home, the government would assist them on a case-to-case basis, Jose said.

Under alert level 3, the government will also implement a total deployment ban to the three West African nations, he said.

“Those vacationing here cannot return and those to be repatriated cannot return there,” he said.

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TAGS: Diseases, Ebola, Guinea, Herminio Coloma Jr., Liberia, Malacañang, medical workers, Philippines, Sierra Leone
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