By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

CORONAVIRUS infections in the Philippine capital and nearby areas have peaked, according to the country’s health chief.

“It appeared to have peaked already,” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III told a televised news briefing on Monday in Filipino. “Cases in the National Capital Region have been declining in the past days.”

The government would likely lower the virus alert in Metro Manila once it meets the threshold set by authorities, he said.

Metro Manila could go down to Alert Level 2 if two-week coronavirus growth rate moderates, its average daily attack rate falls to one to seven cases for 100,000 people and its healthcare use rate falls to less than 50%.

Mr. Duque said an inter-agency task force would meet on Thursday to determine the virus alert for Metro Manila for the next two weeks. 

“That is not yet cast in stone because it will still be discussed,” he said. “We will need to review the metrics.”

The Philippines posted 24,938 coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 3.44 million.

The death toll hit 53,519 after 47 more patients died, while recoveries rose by 35,461 to 3.13 million, the Department of Health (DoH) said in a bulletin.

It said 40.6% of 59,896 samples tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on Jan. 24, way above the 5% threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

There were 262,997 active cases, 7,944 of which did not show symptoms, 250,235 were mild, 3,010 were moderate, 1,499 were severe and 309 were critical.

DoH said 97% of the latest cases occurred from Jan. 11 to Jan. 24. The top regions with new cases in the past two weeks were Metro Manila with 3,610, Calabarzon with 3,382 and Central Visayas with 2,562 infections. It added that 91% of deaths occurred in January, 6% in October and 2% in September.

The agency said 98 duplicates had been removed from the tally, 74 of which were reclassified as recoveries, while 11 recoveries were relisted as deaths. Five laboratories failed to submit data on Jan. 22.

It said 51% of intensive care unit beds in the country had been used, while the rate for Metro Manila was 47%.

Metro Manila might record fewer than 1,000 cases daily by Feb. 14, OCTA Research Group fellow Fredegusto P. David told a televised news briefing. He said the region’s reproduction rate had decreased to 1.03.

But the wave of infections in the country driven by the high mutated Omicron variant could go on until March or April, he said.

“The Omicron wave will still last for a while because while cases are going down in NCR (National Capital Region), Cavite and Rizal, they are still increasing in other areas,” Mr. David said. Other areas have yet to see an uptick, he added.

“We’re hoping that by around March to April, the Omicron wave in the entire country will be over, which means we could see fewer than 1,000 cases a day,” Mr. David said. “But that is still not guaranteed.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Duque said all bidding activities at the Health department are legal, after a group of consumers filed a complaint before the Philippine Competition Commission last week asking it to look into the alleged monopoly in the government’s procurement of pneumococcal vaccines.

The government might be losing billions of pesos because it was being overcharged by a single drugmaker in the procurement of the vaccines, according to the group.

It said the government had been using the more expensive shots from a drugmaker since 2014 even if there were two other available vaccines.

Mr. Duque said his agency’s legal team was looking into the allegations “with a sense of urgency.”

“We assure you that our bids and awards committee follows and respects the process,” he said. “If there is an issue, we will look into it.”

The United Filipino Consumers and Commuters also asked the competition agency to suspend the procurement of the pneumococcal vaccines pending investigation.