MANILA - The World Health Organization representative to the Philippine on Tuesday said the Department of Health should be "more cautious" after it proclaimed the Philippines is now a low risk area for COVID-19.
Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said with the coronavirus evidently still evolving, it is imperative that countries increase preparedness and that the public should not lower their guard.
"I think we need to be more cautious. It’s not costly to err on the side of caution," he told ANC's Headstart when asked if the claim of DOH was misleading or if he'd ask the agency to exercise caution.
"We need to be consistent in our message that the public needs to be aware that the risk remains. They need to follow the protocols, they need to follow the minimum health standards. Giving them wrong messaging could result in lower compliance with those minimum health standards, with the mask-wearing, the physical distancing and hygiene. We have to be careful here," he said.
DOH Epidemiology Bureau Director Alethea De Guzman last week said the risk classification nationally is already at low risk, as growth rate of the virus nationwide for 2 weeks was at -9 percent. She also said that the average daily attack rate from June 13 to 26 was only at 5.42.
When asked about what parameters the WHO would recommend in calling a country low-risk, Abeyasinghe said he "would not go there at this point in time because this virus has demonstrated that it’s still evolving, it’s still changing."
"All it means is that we need to continue to strengthen our preparedness. We need to continue to use the resources we have in a rational manner to maximize the impact and we need to prepare for a scenario where the currently available therapeutics and vaccines may fail because the virus continues to mutate," he said.
"Until we are reasonably confident that we have beaten the virus, I think we shouldn’t rush there," he added.
Abeyasinghe said while the WHO recognizes that particularly in Metro Manila, there has been "significant progress" in vaccination, "the rates of coverage are nowhere near what we could be comfortable to say that we are unlikely to see a major surge."
He said the WHO continues to urge a rational use of vaccines, where its limited supply will be used to protect the most vulnerable to potentially protect overwhelming the health care system in case of a surge.
"It’s critically important that we wield the available vaccines as a component of total response and not as a tool that will help to get out of this pandemic in one place or another," he said.
Emphasizing that this applies to the global scale, Abeyasinghe quoted the WHO Director General in saying "no country will come out of this alone." He noted that countries with high vaccine coverage such as the United Kingdom are still not out of the pandemic, with about 90 percent of its cases being caused by the Delta variant.
The Philippines has so far recorded 19 cases of the Delta variant.
In total, the country has reported 1,441,746 COVID-19 infections, with 51,594 still active as of Monday. Total deaths stood at 25,192 deaths, and total recoveries at 1,364,960.