Analysts, doctors warn vs easing to COVID-19 Alert Level 1 too soon

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 13 2022 10:06 AM | Updated as of Feb 13 2022 10:17 AM

Manila Health Department (MHD) personnel administer COVID-19 vaccine to faculty and students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Sta. Mesa, Manila on February 11, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Manila Health Department (MHD) personnel administer COVID-19 vaccine to faculty and students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Sta. Mesa, Manila on February 11, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — A group of COVID-19 data analysts and doctors on Sunday cautioned the government against shifting to Alert Level 1 too soon, saying other indicators apart from the number of daily new cases should be considered in relaxing restrictions.

For OCTA Research Group fellow Dr. Guido David, it would be better for the National Capital Region (NCR) and its surrounding areas to ease to Alert Level 1 — the lowest in a five-tier alert level system that dictates restrictions — by March.

David said it is possible for NCR to be classified as "very low risk" to COVID-19 around that period.

"Given two weeks, I think we could be okay to deescalate to Alert Level 1," David told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.

Even though NCR is currently classified "low risk" based on OCTA's standards, the group still hopes the region will have a lower positivity rate and average daily attack rate (ADAR) when it relaxes restrictions, David said.

NCR's positivity rate is still at 8.6 percent while the ADAR is at 5, according to David.

"We're still hoping na mapababa pa 'yong positivity rate, down to at least 5 percent," he said, referring to the World Health Organization's benchmark.

(We're still hoping we can lower the positivity rate, down to at least 5 percent.)

"We could be a little bit more cautious in our appraoch," David added.

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In a separate TeleRadyo interview, Philippine College Physicians (PCP) President Dr. Maricar Limpin also said the government should look at the positivity rate and ADAR before shifting to Alert Level 1.

"Ang kinatatakot namin, 'yong masyadong mabilisan na pagluluwag," Limpin said.

(What we fear is relaxing restrictions too quickly.)

"Siguraduhin nating hindi lang natin tinitingnan 'yong sa dami lang ng kasong nakatala sa DOH (Department of Health), kundi titingnan din natin kung na-prepare na rin natin [sa Alert Level 1] 'yong buong lugar o 'yong buong Pilipinas," she said.

(Let's be sure that we're not just looking at the number of cases reported by the DOH. Let's also see if we've prepared an entire area or the entire country for Alert Level 1.)

OCTA's David said the number of COVID-19 cases in some areas remain high even though they are declining, citing the Cordillera region, Iloilo City and parts of Mindanao.

There is also a need to get more people vaccinated and boosted against the respiratory illness "to prevent future surges," he said.

The government on Monday is expected to announce new alert level classifications starting Feb. 16.

On Saturday, the Philippines posted 3,792 additional COVID-19 cases, the 5th straight day that new infections were fewer than 5,000.

The Philippines now has a total of 3,634,368 total confirmed COVID-19 infections, 84,229 of which are active, according to DOH data.

The country saw a spike in new cases beginning late December until last month due to the omicron variant.

Under Alert Level 1, intrazonal and interzonal travel would be allowed despite age and comorbidity, according to the DOH website. 

All establishments and activities, meanwhile, will be permitted to operate "full on-site or venue/seating capacity," the DOH said. 

David and Limpin echo the reminders of authorities for the public to continue following the minimum health protocols.