Archbishop Jose Palma is in hospital; the auxiliary emeritus too tested positive. The vaccination campaign has not yet started. The Philippine Labor Department wants to trade nurses for vaccine.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Archbishop Jose Palma of Cebu, 70, has tested positive for COVID-19, showing moderate symptoms. The prelate, who heads the diocese of the second most important city in the Philippines, is being treated at the Perpetual Relief Hospital in Cebu.
“The archbishop remains in stable condition. Let us all pray for his steady and speedy recovery,” said spokesman Mgr Joseph Tan.
Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Antonio Rañola, 88, who lives in the same residence as Archbishop Palma, also contracted the coronavirus and is hospitalised, as is a diocesan priest.
The disease struck the prelates just as Cebu was preparing to mark 500 years since the arrival of Christianity in the archipelago. It is in fact in this region that the first Eucharistic celebration was held in 1521.
The Philippine Church has already lost two bishops to the coronavirus: Archbishop Emeritus of Lingayen-Dagupan Oscar Cruz and Bishop Emeritus of Imus Manuel Cruz Sobreviñas.
Other bishops have contracted COVID-19 but they recovered: Apostolic Administrator of Manila Broderick Pabillo and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples.
With 564,865 officially reported cases and 12,107 deaths, the Philippines is the second most affected country by COVID-19 in Southeast Asia, right after Indonesia. Now the situation is getting more alarming with the arrival of the British and South African variants.
However, the vaccination campaign has not yet begun in Manila: 600,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine provided by the Chinese government are expected to arrive in the next few days, but the local Food and Drug Administration has recommended not to use it for health personnel and the elderly, judging it unsuitable for the two groups most at risk.
Another 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine were supposed to arrive via the COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access) programme but were stopped by a legal dispute over liability for any side effects.
Meanwhile, Alice Visperas, director of the International Affairs Bureau of the Philippine Department of Labor, raised some eyebrows when she suggested that the Philippines lift the cap on its nurses going abroad in exchange for vaccines from certain countries, like the United Kingdom and Germany, which it would use to inoculate outbound workers and hundreds of thousands of Philippine repatriates.
Government data show that 17,000 Philippine nurses signed overseas contracts in 2019, ensuring a large flow of remittances.
Jocelyn Andamo, general secretary of the Filipino Nurses United slammed the idea of trading health workers for vaccines. “We are disgusted on how nurses and healthcare workers are being treated by the government as commodities or export products,” she said.