MANILA (2nd UPDATE)— The entire Philippines will stay under COVID-19 Alert Level 2 until the end of the year, Malacañang said on Wednesday, as the country remains on guard against the threat of the heavily mutated omicron coronavirus variant.
All areas across the country will remain under Alert 2 from Dec. 16 to 31, said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, acting spokesman for Malacañang.
"Hindi pwede pa magluwag to Alert Level 1 dahil sa banta ng omicron variant… It is better to be cautious," added Health Secretary Francisco Duque III in a separate briefing.
(We cannot downgrade to Alert Level 1 because of the threat of the Omicron variant.)
Video courtesy of PTV
The Philippines on Wednesday detected its first two cases of the omicron variant in two international travelers.
Classified by the World Health Organization as a "variant of concern," omicron has prompted countries across the globe to shut their borders and reimpose restrictions.
"We are being cautious because ito nga, iyong banta ng omicron, nakikita natin sa ibang mga lugar… pataas nang pataas ang bilang ng COVID cases doon at marami pa tayong hindi nalalaman sa banta ng omicron," Nograles said of the nationwide Alert 2.
(We are being cautious because of the threat of omicron. We see in other areas, COVID cases continue increasing and we still don't know many things about omicron.)
He said authorities have yet to finalize guidelines to put any area under the least stringent Alert 1.
"Hindi pa talaga tayo ganoon ka-confident (we are not yet that confident) to open up places for Alert Level 1 because we need to still ramp up our vaccination," said Nograles.
"With Alert Level 2, we’re confident na nasi-secure natin ang health and safety ng ating mga kababayan, but safely reopening our economy," he added.
(With alert level 2, we’re confident that we are securing the health and safety of our compatriots, but safely reopening our economy.)
Alert 2 allows select establishments to operate at up to 50 percent of their indoor capacity for fully vaccinated individuals.
Public health expert Dr. Tony Leachon welcomed the retention of Alert Level 2 in the country, saying, “I think it’s a very logical and wise move coming from the government considering the increased mobility and increased volume of people that will be going out to the malls and the churches, and this might trigger the increase in the viral transmission."
"We are not yet sure about the potential threat of the Omicron variant which has ravaged countries in Europe and America,” he said on ANC.
Leachon noted that the country also anticipates the arrival of many overseas Filipino workers who would be celebrating the holiday season this December with their families.
“I think maintaining that would be effective for the country in terms of curbing the transmission,” he said.
“Although it’s controlled, we cannot relax because we need to finish the vaccination program,” added the former special adviser to the government’s COVID-19 task force.
Leachon said "increasing the vaccination rate, coupled with the decrease in the positivity rate will actually mean that we will be having a nice Christmas."
The government started testing out COVID-19 alert levels and accompanying granular lockdowns in Metro Manila in mid-September as a replacement for the community quarantine system.
The COVID-19 task force in its meeting on Tuesday repealed the old quarantine system, Nograles said.
"Very clearly now, pino-forego na po natin iyong dating community quarantine system classifications. We are fully implementing now iyong alert level system sa buong Pilipinas," he said.
(We are foregoing the old community quarantine system classifications. We are now fully implementing the alert level system in the entire Philippines.)
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan and Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News