MANILA - The Philippines' capital region may qualify to be under COVID-19 Alert Level 1 by Dec. 1, but its nearly 13.5 million people should continue to be cautious to avert another surge in infections, an official said Sunday.
"I hope that by Dec. 1, we should be already at Alert Level 1. and Kaya naman natin 'yan. While we continue to go down in cases, and we’re recommending Alert Level 1, vigilance is important," Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
Alert Level 1 is the lowest in the new 5-step scheme being implemented in the country to control the spread of COVID-19 while allowing businesses to operate. It comes with granular lockdowns.
According to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, an area can be placed under Alert Level 1 if case transmission is low and decreasing, total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate are low.
Under this category, intrazonal and interzonal movement is allowed regardless of age and comorbidities.
Also, all establishments are allowed to operate, people are allowed to work, and activities are permitted to be undertaken at full on-site or venue/seating capacity, subject to minimum public health standards.
Face-to-face classes for basic education, however, will still be subject to prior approval of the Office of the President.
Metro Manila, which accounts for about a third of the country's GDP, is under Alert Level 2 until the end of the month.
Concepcion said that aside from proper wearing of face masks, it is important for the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19 amid the challenge to ramp up the inoculation, including to cover those who are hesitant to receive the jabs.
"Ang importante ngayon, lahat ng tayo ay kumuha ng bakuna. National interest na 'to. Common good. Hindi na sariling 'I feel I'm right, I don't need to take the bakuna, it's my right'... Ang economy natin ay nakasalalay dito," he said.
(What's important now is for all of us to get the vaccine. This is a matter of national interest, for the common good. This is no longer about individual rights, or feeling right about not taking the vaccine... Our economy lies on the vaccination of the people.)
Vaccine supply is no longer a problem, he added, suggesting that local government officials, from governors to mayors to barangay captains, should talk directly to their constituents to get the vaccine, and counter "fake news" being propagated by some groups.
The Philippines has received nearly 122 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccine brands, of which, 67.7 million have been administered.
As of Nov. 11, some 30.8 million people in the country have been fully vaccinated against the respiratory illness, representing nearly 40 percent of the government's target of 77.1 million to achieve herd immunity, monitoring by the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group showed.
Nearly 37 million others have received their first dose. The country rolled out is vaccination program last March 1.
The widening vaccination coverage in the country has been cited by OCTA research group as among the main reasons for the decline in new cases observed since October this year.
"Sigurado tayo mag-merry Christmas na," Concepcion said amid the looming more relaxed quarantine rules for the rest of the year.
(We're sure to having a merry Christmas already this year.)
"Itong pagluwag dito sa 4th quarter, ang palagay ko dito, tuloy-tuloy ito hanggang the year 2022. Nakita na natin yung talagang solusyon -ang pagbabakuna ng mga LGUs no less than, sa tingin ko, 80 percent and higher," he added.
(I think the relaxed policies this fourth quarter will continue until 2022. We already found the solution - the LGUs vaccinating at least 80 percent of their constituents.)
"We have to give them a chance to be able to come back in a situation for one year na walang (without) lockdown," Concepcion said of business entities.
A party-list congressman, however, cautioned government officials against quickly easing Metro Manila's alert level.
In a statement, Senior Citizens Party-list Rep. Rodolfo Ordanes said the capital region should be placed under Alert Level 1 only if it manages to sustain a positivity rate below 5 percent, and vaccinates at least 70 percent of senior citizens and persons with comorbidities.
"Sa ngayon, sapat na muna ang Alert Level 2 (For now, Alert Level 2 is sufficient)," he said.
Ordanes also said he agreed with the recommendation of the Department of the Interior and Local Government and Metro Manila Council to stop the mandatory use of face shields, except in critical areas such as hospitals and health facilities.
The Philippines has logged a total of 2,815,080 confirmed COVID-19 cases, of which 29,382 are active, as of Saturday, the Department of Health said.
It logged its first case on Jan. 30 last year in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where the disease is believed to have first emerged.