MANILA - The Philippines will likely keep Alert Level 1 as the lowest step in its COVID-19 restrictions until the end of President Rodrigo Duterte's term in June, the Department of Health said on Thursday.
Government experts and advisers are still studying further deescalation to "Alert Level 0," Health Secretary Francisco Duque said.
"Dahan-dahan tayo (Let's be careful). Let us be prudent and let us be guided by data and science through our expert panel," said Duque.
"Sa ngayon masyadong premature, masyado pang maaga, so Alert Level 1 muna tayo malamang hanggang sa katapusan ng termino ng ating Pangulong Duterte," he said in a televised briefing.
(It's too premature for now, it's too early so we'll likely stay at Alert Level 1 until the end of President Duterte's term.)
It was Duque who first mentioned that experts were looking into a lower alert level and whether face masks would still be required.
"Tingin ko di pa panahon para magtanggal ng face mask. Matuto tayo sa karanasan ng iba't ibang bansa sa Europa," he said.
(I think it's not yet time to remove face masks. Let's learn from the experience of various European countries.)
Metro Manila and 47 other areas are under Alert 1 until the end of March.
Meanwhile, around 57 areas are under Alert 2. Their alert level needs to go down before government considers further easing restrictions, said Duque.
"Kailangan pa paigtingin ang kanilang vaccination for 70 percent of target population...'yan muna pagtuunan natin ng pansin. Maayos naman tayo sa Alert Level 1. Depende rin 'yan sa mga nagbabadyang variants, mutations," he said.
(We still need to ramp up their vaccination to 70 percent of the target population...that's what we should focus on. We're doing good under Alert Level 1. It also depends on looming variants, mutations.)
The Philippines has fully vaccinated at least 64.6 million people against COVID-19, as of March 15.
Around 1.79 million individuals so far received a COVID-19 jab during the fourth run of the national vaccination days, which was extended until Friday, Duque said.
He said the DOH was waiting for the "positive recommendation" of the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) for the use of Sinovac's vaccine for children aged 5 and above.
A DOH panel is also looking into the proposed fourth dose or second booster shot for the elderly and immunocompromised, Duque said.
In the meantime, the public is urged to stay hydrated following the onset of dry season, Duque said. He also recommended wearing sunblock and refraining from going outdoors when the sun is at its peak at 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"Iwasan ang labis na exposure sa init ng araw dahil magkakroon po tayo ng heat stroke o heat exhaustion, dehydration lalo na po sa mga matatanda. Yung thirsts sensitivity nila ay 'di na po katulad ng mga bata," he said.
(Let us avoid overexposure to the heat of the sub because we may suffer heat stroke or heat exhaustion, and dehydration, especially for the elderly. Their thirst sensitivity is not the same as younger people.)