THE government has lifted the deployment ban for Filipino doctors and nurses with existing contracts overseas amid the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic after critics questioned its legality.

An inter-agency task force made up of Cabinet officials modified an order issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) earlier this month, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said at a briefing on Tuesday.

In an order dated April 2, POEA suspended the deployment of doctors and nurses while the country is in a state of national emergency.

Also covered by the ban are microbiologists, molecular biologists, medical technologists, clinical analysts, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, laboratory and X-ray technicians, nursing aids, medical equipment operators health supervisors and hospital equipment repair men.

POEA also suspended negotiations for government-to-government deployment of health workers.

It said the country’s health facilities, personnel and other resources are under severe strain due to the rising number of persons affected by the COVID-19 virus, according to the order signed by Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III, who heads the POEA board.

Mr. Nograles said Filipino health care workers with existing overseas employment contracts March 8 may leave the country, provided they sign a waiver signifying their knowledge of the risks involved in traveling overseas.

“They would be allowed to leave,” he said. “They just need to sign a declaration signifying their knowledge of the risks involved in traveling abroad.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. earlier opposed the ban, saying it was illegal.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte in a late-night address on Monday also said he won’t stop Filipino health workers who want to work overseas.

“I’m not blaming them and I’m not mad,” he said. “If Filipino health care workers want to serve in other countries and serve other people, it’s okay. I have no emotions about it.”

British Ambassador to the Philippines Daniel Pruce had reached out to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) after Filipino health workers employed by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service were barred from leaving the country.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia earlier said health care workers should prioritize serving the country, noting that the state had given them benefits during the health crisis.

Mr. Duterte on March 17 ordered that Luzon be locked down, suspending classes, work and public transportation to contain the pandemic. He later extended the month-long lockdown by two more weeks until April 30. — NPA