Alert Level 0: No more NTF, treating COVID-19 as flu?

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 11 2022 06:48 PM

Market-goers navigate the Marikina Public Market on February 20, 2022. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file 
Market-goers navigate the Marikina Public Market on February 20, 2022. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file 

Expert says Philippines ready for Alert Level 0

MANILA— Authorities are preparing guidelines for the possibility of an Alert Level 0, or the country's pandemic exit plan, as the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to dip and government eyes a higher vaccination rate, an official said on Friday. 

Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing said under the said quarantine level, COVID-19 could be treated as an ordinary flu, with local governments having more power to manage rising cases. 

Densing noted though that while authorities have yet to finalize the guidelines, there were some points being considered. 

"Gusto nating sabihin kapag nag-Alert Level Zero, talagang binanggit ko sa pagdi-discuss o pag-uusap sa National Action Plan (NAP) 5 eh dapat nasa lokal na gobyerno na talaga ang pamamahala nitong COVID-19," the official said in a public briefing. 

(The NAP 5 is also being discussed along with the possibility of an Alert Level 0, and under it, local governments would have more power in managing COVID-19 cases.)

"Ang magiging pananaw na natin sa COVID-19 ay siyang ordinaryong sakit na lang o parang flu na lamang na nadadanas natin ng normal at regular," he added. 

(Our perspective on COVID-19 will turn something like how we treat flu, which seems normal and regular.)

The National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 may be dissolved, he said, but the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases will be retained based on the President's Executive Order in cases of an endemic.

"Local government na po ang mamamahala kung saka-sakaling magkaroon ng endemya at papasok ang national government to assist," Densing said. 

(It will be the local government who would manage this. When there's an endemic, the national government is there to assist.)

It is also important, he said, that the lingering respiratory disease will be declared as an endemic. 

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Experts earlier noted that in an endemic phase, there should be fewer deaths in COVID-19 infections. It also means that most people can recover from the illness without having to go to a hospital.

OCTA fellow Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, meanwhile, had said that there have been signs that the coronavirus pandemic may soon be endemic due to the impact of the omicron variant. 

Infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante noted that based on metrics, the country is ready to shift to Alert Level 0. 

He emphasized. however, the importance of fully vaccinating 90 percent of the national target.

"At this point, based on the metrics na nakikita natin ngayon especially sa pagbaba ng mga kaso at saka iyong healthcare utilization rate natin, ito iyong dalawang tinitingnan namin na if ever we will be downgrading to Alert Level Zero, mukhang ready na tayo," Solante said during the same briefing.

Some experts though said the country is not yet prepared to shift to Alert Level 0. 

LESS RESTRICTIONS

Under Alert Level 0, the interior undersecretary said that vaccination status might not matter inside establishments. 

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is still required when entering malls, stores under Alert Level 1, guidelines released by the IATF showed.

Public transport, schools, and government offices, meanwhile, are allowed to operate at 100% capacity.

"Limitation sa pagpasok sa mga area na may [closed spaces, crowded places, close-contact settings]. Mawawala na rin po iyan sa Alert Level Zero. So, in other words, whether vaccinated ka or unvaccinated, makakapasok ka na sa mga lugar na mga 3Cs," he said. 

(Limitations in going into 3Cs will be lifted in Alert Level 0.)

Solante said face masks must still be worn at all times in public, as this provides an additional layer of protection from COVID-19, most especially the presence of several variants. 

"We still have to maintain iyong mask natin ‘no, iyong pagsusuot ng face mask even if we’ll be on Alert Level Zero because I think that’s the more important part of protection even if other limitations will be lifted," he said. 

Both Solante and Densing said despite the proposal, the public should get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Based on ABS-CBN News' monitoring, the Philippines has so far fully vaccinated some 64 million people, while over 10 million have already received their booster shots. 

The number of fully vaccinated individuals accounts for 71 percent of the target 90 million, ABS-CBN's researchers noted.

The health department reported 592 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the 3rd straight day that new cases fell below the 600-mark, according to ABS-CBN News' data team.