By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

DAILY coronavirus infections in Manila, the capital and nearby cities have dropped for the first time to fewer than 100 since March 2020, when the main island of Luzon was locked down to contain the pandemic, according to researchers from the country’s premier university.

The capital region had an average of 91 daily coronavirus infections from Dec. 6 to 12, fewer than 105 a week earlier, the OCTA Research Group said in a report on Monday.

“The seven-day average in the National Capital Region decreased to fewer than 100 for the first time since March 22 to 28, 2020,” OCTA fellow Fredegusto P. David tweeted.

The average daily attack rate in Metro Manila fell to less than 1 at 0.64 a day for 100,000 people, while the coronavirus reproduction number was 0.39, the group said. “The test positivity rate was just 0.9%.”

Last week, Metro Manila’s attack rate was 0.74 a day for 100,000 people. The region’s reproduction rate was 0.34, while its positivity rate was 1%.

OCTA said Metro Manila remained at “very low risk” from the coronavirus.

Twelve cities and one municipality in Metro Manila were classified as “very low risk,” while four others were considered “low risk,” the group said.

The cities of Caloocan, Las Piñas, Mandaluyong, Parañaque, Marikina, Pasig, Navotas, Valenzuela, San Juan, Manila, Pasay, Taguig and the municipality of Pateros were considered “very low risk.” Muntinlupa, Quezon City, Malabon, and Makati were at low risk from the virus.

Metro Manila is under Alert Level 2, the second most lenient lockdown level. The government is set to announce new quarantine levels on Dec. 15.

Experts have been urging the government to delay relaxing virus restrictions in Metro Manila, which accounts for a third of the country’s economic output, and other parts of the country amid the threat of the Omicron variant first detected in South Africa.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 360 coronavirus infections on Monday – the second lowest daily tally in 17 months — bringing the total to 2.84 million.

The death toll hit 50,341 after 61 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 519 to 2.78 million, it said in a bulletin.

There were 11,083 active cases, 782 of which did not show symptoms, 4,292 were mild, 3,662 were moderate, 1,948 were severe and 399 were critical.

The agency said 97% of the reported cases occurred from Nov. 30 to Dec. 13. The top regions with cases in the past two weeks were Metro Manila with 65 cases and Calabarzon and Western Visayas with 32 each.

It added that 15% of the reported deaths occurred in December, 43% in November, 38% in October, and 5% in September.

The Health department said two duplicates had been removed from the tally, one of which was reclassified as recovery, while 49 recoveries were relisted as deaths.

It added that 147 patients had tested negative and were removed from the tally. Four laboratories did not operate on Dec. 11, while five failed to submit data.

The agency said 23% of intensive care units in the Philippines were occupied, while the rate for Metro Manila was 25%.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III denied claims that the government had missed an opportunity to get 50 million syringes from the United States, saying the price set by the supplier had gone over the approved budget.

He issued the statement after Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said the need for the syringes had been discussed in Washington but Philippine agencies refused to discuss the matter.

Taking the deal, which priced 50 million syringes at P411.5 million or about P2.38 apiece, would have violated the Government Procurement Reform Act, Mr. Duque told GMA Network’s Super Radyo.

“What Locsin wanted was for us to accept the price of the supplier,” he said in Filipino. “But that’s not allowed by law. We are not stupid to do that. We have a law for that — Republic Act 9184.”

“What he’s saying does not make sense. We backed out because we could provide the budget,” Mr. Duque added. “Why should we follow that? We will be charged with graft.”

Mr. Locsin tweeted at the weekend that Health officials had offered to buy syringes at 4.7 cents each, which he described as hallucinatory because no one makes “special Pfizer low dead volume syringes that cheap.”

“We’re not exactly poor as you’d know if you knew what we’ve been paying for vaccines,” Mr. Locsin said in response to a Twitter user’s comment that the Philippines should accept the deal if it was a donation.

The government is set to take delivery of 52 million doses of coronavirus vaccines this month, vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said.