MANILA, Philippines — Metro Manila’s local chief executives have agreed that there is “no need” to shift to a stricter Alert Level 4 for the time being as the healthcare system’s utilization numbers remain manageable, the Metro Manila Development Authority said Monday.
This comes after the Philippines on Sunday set a new record for COVID-19 cases tallied in a day since the pandemic began for the second straight day with 28,707 fresh cases. According to the OCTA Research Group, the 16,924 of these cases that came from the NCR set a new record for the region.
“What the mayors agreed on was that we will maintain Alert Level 3, and we will continuously monitor specifically [utilization] rates, but for the meantime the mayors see no need to raise to Alert Level 4,” MMDA chairman Benhur Abalos told reporters at a press briefing Monday morning.
This was because, Abalos said, the vaccination rate in the National Capital Region is “more than 100%” while the bed utilization rate in hospitals remains stable despite the ongoing surge. The vaccination rate does not mean that everyone in Metro Manila has been vaccinated.
Per data provided by the Department of Health and cited by the MMDA, Metro Manila’s bed utilization as of Sunday includes:
- 52% ICU bed utilization
- 50% isolation bed utilization
- 65% of ward beds
- 26% of ventilators
MMDA highlights ‘mildness’ of Omicron
As of this post, healthcare utilization in the National Capital Region is still classified as “between low and moderate.” Hospital beds were at 49% capacity and ICU beds at 51% capacity in Metro Manila as of Friday night.
Under the pandemic task force’s alert level system, Alert Level 4 is declared where cases are high and increasing, and hospital bed and intensive care utilization are high. The stricter alert level limits indoor capacity for businesses and venues to 10% and 30% outdoors.
But the Metro Manila Council of mayors, citing DOH figures, emphasized that 85% of severe and critical cases are unvaccinated while 93% of COVID-related deaths are unvaccinated.
“In Metro Manila, we’re almost 100-percent vaccinated here, so there will be more vaccinated people who are hit. But the effect isn’t that big, it’s just mostly asymptomatic. Look at the effect on those unvaccinated. That is the data that should be emphasized here,” Abalos said in mixed Filipino and English.
“We must always keep in mind…how many of the cases are actually severe, even critical? Most of them are unvaccinated…To our countrymen watching, let’s remember that the character of this Omicron is that it’s very transmissible…but totally, its effect compared to the other ones is that it’s very mild, it’s lighter.”
Dr. Tony Leachon, former special adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19, has pushed back against the narrative focusing on the supposed mildness of the variant, saying in a tweet earlier Wednesday that there are people who “have weaker immune systems and protection.”
“Even if it’s mild, people who get it will still have (to) isolate. They won’t be able to work. The effect may not be mortality or death, but the sheer volume can jeopardize and cause economic depression,” Leachon said then, referring to the Omicron variant.
“Well, ‘mild’ symptoms in the vaccinated is a good thing, but as this unpredictable virus continues to infect more and more people (vaccinated or not) it will keep mutating.”
Mayors ‘continuously monitoring’
Abalos also shared photographs of malls, roads, and other public areas around the Metro to back his argument, saying people aren’t going out as much anymore.
The MMDA chief said he “did not have the exact figures” on how many of the confirmed cases were of vaccinated individuals.
He added that the Metro Manila Council “did not have an advisory yet right now” on whether or not face shields would be making a return.
Later Monday, independent pandemic monitor OCTA Research said that the positivity rate in the NCR has already exceeded 50 percent — meaning more than one in every two tests comes out positive.
The group also predicted anywhere between 14,000 to 17,000 new coronavirus cases in the capital region for Monday afternoon’s case tally.
As it stands, the country’s positivity rate — or percentage of coronavirus infections based on the total tests conducted — of 44.0% out of 77,479 tests is well ahead of the benchmark of five percent set by the World Health Organization for opening economies.
Alert Level 3 allows some businesses to operate but at reduced capacity. Cinemas, movie houses and other businesses are allowed to operate at 30% indoor venue capacity and 50% outdoor venue capacity.
Asked how long the recommendation to retain Alert Level 3 would hold weight, Abalos said: “We really cannot tell, but we are continuously monitoring these. We will see.”
— with a report from Jonathan de Santos
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