Filipinos in UK concern over devastation of COVID-19 in community


At least 23 Filipinos working in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) have died from COVID-19, according to Filipino leaders who said the virus was wreaking havoc on a community that forms a backbone of the NHS and care sector in the country.

There are more than 18,000 Filipinos health workers in the UK, ranking third to the numbers from Britain and India.

The pastor of a church attended in the past by two Filipino hospital porters in Oxford who are believed to have died from COVID-19 spoke of the devastation wrought on his local community alone.

Oscar King Jr. and Elbert Rico – two porters at Oxford’s John Radcliffe hospital – died over the weekend. King Jr., who was described as a devoted father to his 10-year-old daughter, died on Saturday an hour after being brought to hospital after isolating at home with symptoms consistent with the virus, said Arnold Barrientos, the pastor of the Jesus is Lord Church in Oxford.

King Jr.’s wife, Twilight, is recovering after she was also taken to hospital.In a loss that has shaken the large Filipino community in the Oxford area, King Jr.’s colleague, Rico, died on Friday from suspected coronavirus. He had been working at the hospital since arriving in the UK from the Philippines in 2004. His wife is a healthcare assistant.

It emerged on Wednesday that another Filipino healthcare worker who died was a nurse in Bridgend, Wales, whose husband is also now struggling with the disease in hospital. Leilani Medel, 41, had worked in care homes and hospitals for more than 10 years.

Fundraising pages set up to support the family give an insight into the scale of the impact of coronavirus on the community. Others who have died include Elvira Bucu, an NHS care worker and mother of three whose husband was also infected; Leilani Dayrit, a clinical nurse sister at St Cross hospital in Rugby who died of suspected Covid-19 on April 7; and Amor Padilla Gatinao, 50, who worked at the NHS for 18 years and died on Friday after contracting COVID-19 last month.

Gatinao’s husband, Mario, has said he believes his wife caught the virus while working at St Charles hospital in west London. In London, the community also lost Donald Suelto, who worked on a chemotherapy ward at Hammersmith hospital and died at his home on April 07.

“The figure for the number who had died stood at 12 last week. At least eight were nurses but people from the Philippines or of Filipino ethnic origin work in a range of roles across the healthcare sector,” said Michael Duque, nurse consultant who was president of an association that used to act as an umbrella for Filipino nurses.

“The community is rallying to help each other where we can, and we’re also encouraging people to know that they can speak up about their rights to the correct form of PPE, as organisations like the Royal College of Nursing and Unison have said.”

Barrientos, who is a nurse, meanwhile spoke from his home in Oxford where he is isolating after also testing positive.

“Oscar was like a brother to me so it has hit me and everyone who came to the church very hard. We also knew Elbert, who came to the church some years ago,” he said.

The virus had taken a particular toll on the church’s 100-strong congregation, about 80% of whom are healthcare workers and from the Philippines. Aside from the two bereaved families, at least 10 people including two families are self-isolating.

“We are trying to help each other – or those of us who can go out are – by buying groceries and cooking foods. We cannot physically help people but we are doing our best,” added Barrientos.

“One of the saddest things is that in the Philippines we would have a vigil over our loved ones when they pass away but that will not be possible because of what has been happening.” (Source: The Guardian)