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Metro far from COVID threshold for Alert Level 2

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter


THE GOVERNMENT is unlikely to tighten the lockdown in the Philippine capital and nearby cities this month despite rising coronavirus infections, researchers from the country’s premier university said on Thursday. 

Daily infections could only go as high as 500 in the capital region by end-June, while cases nationwide could hit 2,000 — far below the 6,000 threshold that would spur a higher alert level, OCTA Research fellow Fredegusto P. David told One News Channel.

“It is farfetched for nationwide cases to hit 6,000 per day, but we are monitoring them because the trajectory can change,” he added.

He said the virus reproduction and positivity rates — 1.56 and 3.3% — in Metro Manila have yet to increase significantly.

Mr. David said the health use rate in Metro Manila was still low at 23.%.

The capital region has been under Alert Level 1 — the most relaxed in a five-tier system — since March after a drop in daily coronavirus infections. An inter-agency task force has recommended to extend this until June 30.

The OCTA fellow traced the recent increase in infections to new Omicron subvariants and the waning immunity among vaccinated Filipinos, among other things.

Most people admitted to private hospitals suffer from non-coronavirus conditions, Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines President Jose Rene de Grano told a televised news briefing. Member hospitals have yet to see a significant increase in COVID-19 admissions, he added.

“The hospital utilization rate for COVID-19 patients among our members is not that high yet,” he said. “Our non-COVID admissions have been increasing.”

He said sick people have started visiting hospitals amid relaxed quarantine restrictions. Mr. De Grano said about 600 member hospitals would have a hard time dealing with a potential infection surge if they can’t boost their nursing staff.

About half of their nurses have left, he said. “If we would be able to double the present number, that would be enough.”

Mr. De Grano said majority of their members have yet to receive state-funded allowance for health workers and support staff. “That’s what saddens our healthcare workers.”

“The Department of Health always says ‘It’s already OK, we’ve released it,’” he said. “The Department of Budget and Management says the P7.9 billion had been released, but where is it?” “The majority of our hospitals have not received their One COVID-19 Allowance up to now.”

Meanwhile, Mr. De Grano said the deployment cap for Filipino health workers should be lowered to 5,000 from 7,000 yearly.

He noted that 11,000 nurses passed the licensure exams in 2021 and 6,000 more this year. “More or less, we can gauge how many health workers we can allow out of the country.”

President-elect Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has yet to lay down his pandemic recovery plan and has not named his Health chief.

Mr. De Grano said they have endorsed former Health Undersecretary Teodoro J. Herbosa for the post. 

Mr. Herbosa was a Health undersecretary from 2010 to 2015. He also served as executive vice-president of the University of the Philippines from 2017 to 2021.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said talks about raising the alert level in Metro Manila was premature.

“If we stick to our basis of the severity of the infection, it is really regarding the flattening of the curve,” PCCI President George T. Barcelon told BusinessWorld Live on One News channel. “We’re far from it.”

The Health department should remind people to be careful instead warning of a potential lockdown, which will hurt the economy, he added. — with Revin Mikhael D. Ochave