Lower alert level for NCR looms

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WITH the number of new Covid-19 cases steadily dropping, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases is considering downgrading the coronavirus alert level in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The task force will meet today, January 27, to review the Covid-19 growth rate and hospital bed utilization in Metro Manila in the past two weeks to determine if it is safe to lower the region’s alert level to 2 from the present 3 by the beginning of February, acting Palace spokesman and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei Nograles said in an interview on CNN Philippines Wednesday.

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“We want to do it as close to February 1 as possible. Tomorrow we will look at the numbers, perhaps we will have to make a decision, as far as Metro Manila is concerned, over the weekend. Maybe I will probably announce this over the weekend either Saturday or Sunday,” he said.

On Wednesday, the country reported 15,789 new Covid-19 cases, down from the 17,677 cases last Tuesday.

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The IATF is also monitoring the Covid-19 situation in 22 areas where cases remain high.

The areas are Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), Central Luzon, Ilocos Region, Cordillera Administrative Region, Baguio City, Cebu City, Cebu Province, Lapu-Lapu City, Mandaue City, Iloilo province, Iloilo City, Bacolod City, Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City, General Santos City, Ormoc City, Naga City, Dagupan City, Western Samar, Tacloban City, Biliran, Zamboanga del Sur.

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The growth rate in Calabarzon and Central Luzon may be waning, but it remains high in other areas, Nograles said.

The task force has directed regional task force officials to increase bed capacities, ensure sufficient isolation facilities, and beef up telemedicine and teleconsultation services for those with the means to undergo home isolation, he said.

The latest Covid surge is being driven by the Omicron variant, which has killed five people so far, according to the Department of Health (DoH).

The most recent fatalities are a senior citizen and two persons with comorbidities.

One fatality was partially vaccinated, and one is unvaccinated, reported Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire in a television interview Wednesday.

The fatalities are proof that Omicron is not a “mild” variant, Vergeire said.

“Whatever variant that we have, as long as you are vaccinated or boosted, ang proteksyon na ibinibigay sa inyo ay napakalaki…. Etong bakuna (the protection that they give us is high, the vaccines) [are] protecting us right now,” she said.

She also said that even with the detection of the “stealth” lineage of Omicron, people should continue to follow minimum health protocols.

Vergeire confirmed on Tuesday that the “stealth” Omicron is now the dominant variant in eight regions, including Metro Manila.

She also said the number of daily cases in the National Capital Region is dropping, confirming Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd’s declaration that cases in the region have peaked.

“The growth rate has slowed, ‘yung positivity is going down and our hospitals are being decongested, bumababa na po ang admissions natin (our admissions has also went down as well),” Vergeire said.

She also said that if the metrics, such as the two-week growth rate, average daily attack rate and hospital utilization rate do not fluctuate, the government will not hesitate to lower the alert level.

Philippine Medical Association President Dr. Benito Atienza hopes downgrading the alert level will not be another occasion for “senseless” infection that caused the surges in December.

“Ang pagtanggal ng alerto po ay talagang ang mga tao ay para na silang walang pakundangan na makahawa at mahawa kasi dikit-dikit ang mga tao (The lowering of alert levels [will mean] that people will be senseless in getting infected and transmitting infections),” Atienza said during a briefing Wednesday.

Elsewhere in the world, the risk level related to the Omicron variant remains very high, with the numbers of new Covid-19 cases hitting another record high last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said late Tuesday.

“Over 21 million new cases were reported, representing the highest number of weekly cases recorded since the beginning of the pandemic,” the WHO said in its weekly epidemiological coronavirus update.

The UN health agency said the number of new infections increased by five percent in the week to Sunday — compared to the 20 percent rise registered the week before.

“A slower increase in case incidence was observed at the global level,” the WHO said. Nearly 50,000 new deaths were also reported, it added — a similar figure to the week before.

The report said Omicron continued to increase its dominance globally over the other variants of concern.

“The current global epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 is characterized by the dominance of the Omicron variant on a global scale, continued decline in the prevalence of the Delta variant, and very low-level circulation of Alpha, Beta and Gamma variants,” the WHO said.

“Countries that experienced a rapid rise in Omicron cases in November and December 2021 have been or are beginning to see declines in cases,” it said, but added that “based on the currently available evidence, the overall risk related to the Omicron variant remains very high.”

The WHO said that samples collected in the last 30 days that have been sequenced and uploaded to the Gisaid global science initiative, Omicron accounted for 89.1 percent.

Delta — previously the world’s dominant variant — now makes up 10.7 percent.

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