MANILA — An official of the World Health Organization on Tuesday warned the Philippines against relaxing COVID-19 curbs in Metro Manila, which he said could overwhelm the healthcare system.
The capital region's 13.5 million people on Thursday will shift to Alert Level 4 in a new 5-step system that makes use of granular lockdown, which government hopes will increase business activity.
While WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe acknowledged that Metro Manila has vaccinated around 60 percent of its target population, he said, "This is not adequate at this point to relax quarantine positions."
"You may re-craft the terminology. But basically what we are advising is make sure that those restrictions are followed, that we don’t relax too much because we are not in a position where we can relax and experience a further worsening of this transmission level," Abeyasinghe said in a televised public briefing.
"Our health systems are just holding up," he reasoned.
Around 78 percent of intensive care units in Metro Manila were in use as of Sept. 13, according to Malacañang.
"If there is a further increase in transmission levels, it can lead to an overwhelming of the hospital systems. That’s why we need to be very careful in calibrating how we respond to the current situation," said Abeyasinghe.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR NCR
Metro Manila's new quarantine level will allowing outdoor dining at 30-percent capacity, and indoor dining for small groups of fully immunized people, officials said.
Religious gatherings and personal care services will be allowed at 30% of building capacity, they added.
If successful, the same formula could be applied across the Philippines, which is battling one of Asia's worst coronavirus outbreaks.
The shift in the government's COVID-19 strategy could soon pave the way for limited face-to-face school classes and the reopening of indoor entertainment facilities in areas with low virus transmission and adequate hospital capacity.
The shift followed calls by some health professionals for tighter curbs to give stretched hospitals a breathing space.
"Up to now, cases are still increasing. It's just like the Olympics, we are waiting for when we will hit a new record high," Geneve Rivera-Reyes, a public physician, told Reuters.
Metro Manila's overall infections in the past 30 days alone accounted for more than a fifth of the country's total of 2.2 million cases, while overall deaths have reached 35,145.
PROGRESS IN ELDERLY VACCINATION 'PAINFULLY SLOW'
At least 17 million of the Philippines' 109 million people are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Malacañang said.
"We have made progress, but unfortunately, the progress in the Philippines has been painfully slow," said WHO's Abeyasinghe.
He noted that 3.6 million elderly people have not yet received a single COVID-19 shot.
Older adults account for 7 in 10 deaths due to COVID-19 locally, he added.
"This is unfortunate, it is unsatisfactory. It’s also a reflection of the inequity we are seeing that we are seeing globally happening… which we need to correct urgently," Abeyasinghe said.
"We should not create inequity within the country when we are vaccinating people," he urged authorities.
— With a report from Reuters
Video courtesy of PTV