A GOVERNMENT order barring Filpino health workers from leaving the country amid a coronavirus pandemic remains in place, the presidential palace said on Thursday.

Only health workers with perfected and signed overseas employment contracts as of March 8 would be allowed to leave the country, Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque told an online news briefing.

An inter-agency task force has issued an order reiterating the deployment ban originally ordered by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on 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. Roque has said the suspension made sense because “charity begins at home,” especially after medical frontliners sought a “timeout” to prevent the collapse of the country’s healthcare capacity. The country is in dire need of health professionals, he added.

The Department of Health (DoH) earlier said it would create a rapid response team of trained medical workers to ease the healthcare overload, seeking assistance from health workers in the provinces and those returning from overseas.

DoH said it would enforce a coordinated response against the coronavirus pandemic, including engaging communities to promote prevention, house-to-house symptom checks to look for active cases and swab testing of people showing symptoms.

A roadmap and technical assistance will be provided to local governments for effective contact tracing, the agency said, adding that about 50,000 more contact tracers should be hired. — Gillian M. Cortez