But won’t ‘hesitate’ to upgrade curbs once hospitalization rate hits 70%
The government will not think twice about raising the alert level status of the National Capital Region (NCR) and neighboring areas if hospitals start filling up as a result of the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases, the Palace said Monday.
This was after the Philippines is poised to breach the three-million total COVID-19 case count after another record daily high of 33,169 posted Monday, with the positivity rate—the ratio of positive cases among all tests performed for the day—also rising for the sixth straight day.
Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire also said the reported number of new daily cases is probably only a fraction of the actual number because many in the country now do home antigen testing, with hospitals and laboratories alike swamped with backlogs.
The Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines also said 15 of its members are already at a “critical” occupancy level, while 20 more hospitals are at “high risk.”
PHAP president Dr. Jose Rene De Grano said many of their patients are unvaccinated or children.
“Around 70 to 85 percent of our patients are not fully vaccinated, and maybe because children are not yet fully vaccinated as well, we’ve observed that 30 to 40 percent of our admissions are children,” De Grano told ANC.
Private hospitals’ greatest challenge now, he said, is their dwindling number of staff, which was already a problem last year before this latest wave of COVID cases powered by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Meanwhile, acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles said: “We are actively monitoring all of the metrics and parameters that we need to look at and even over and above that.”
“As of the moment, it is not meeting the metrics for us to declare Alert Level 4. But immediately when it does, we will not hesitate to declare Alert Level 4 in any area or escalate any area to Alert Level 3,” he added in a mix of English and Filipino on ABS-CBN’s Headstart.
Nograles’s remarks came after the Department of Health (DOH) said there is a probability that Metro Manila will shift to Alert Level 4 from the current Alert Level 3 as new daily cases continue to hit record highs.
Nograles said to qualify for a shift to a higher Alert Level 4, the country’s two-week growth rate, average daily attack rate (ADAR), and healthcare utilization rate should all be at “high” levels.
He said the first two metrics are already high, but the health care utilization rate remains at a “moderate” level.
Nograles said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has recommended implementing an increase in the availability of bed capacity in hospitals and temporary treatment and monitoring facilities in Metro Manila and the surrounding areas, or NCR Plus.
The availability of medical workers would also be another indicator of health care capacity.
He said the government would ramp up telemedicine capacity outside NCR and increase efforts to test and vaccinate more people.
At the same time, Nograles expressed optimism that getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and getting booster shots would prevent the country’s healthcare utilization rate from reaching alarming levels.
“This is what we’re seeing right now, those who are fully vaccinated only get mild symptoms or are even asymptomatic or are resolved in two days, three days… This is where the effect of full vaccination comes into play. We’re seeing less hospitalization from fully vaccinated,” he said.
He renewed his call to the public to get fully vaccinated and to get their boosters to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
Earlier, Metro Manila mayors unanimously agreed to retain Alert Level 3 over the NCR.
Members of the Metro Manila Council, composed of the 17 mayors in the NCR, noted that the healthcare utilization rate (HCUR) in the metropolis between Jan. 8 and 9 logged only a slight increase, which is still within the metrics for Alert Level 3.
DOH statistics show intensive care unit (ICU) beds were at 51 percent full last Jan. 8 and rose to 52 percent on Jan. 9. Isolation beds went from 51 percent to 50 percent on the same dates. Ward beds use rose to 62 percent to 65 percent, while the use of ventilators decreased from 27 percent to 26 percent.
“We are consistently monitoring the region’s HCUR rate, and we assure the public that the NCR mayors are ready in case the metrics show the need to escalate Metro Manila to alert level 4,” said MMC chairman and concurrent Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chief Benjamin Abalos Jr.
Abalos said the public seems to be self-regulating in the past few days, citing less traffic on the road and fewer people in the malls.
The MMDA chief underscored the importance of vaccination, citing records from the DOH that 85 percent of critical and severe COVID-19 cases and 93 percent of deaths are unvaccinated.
Meanwhile, Abalos advised asymptomatic to moderate cases to seek medical advice through telemedicine to avoid congestion of hospitals.
He also asked for understanding from the unvaccinated, emphasizing that the MMC resolution restricting their mobility was aimed at helping them and it only applies when Metro Manila is under Alert Level 3 or higher.
Abalos also appealed to the public not to panic, assuring them that the DOH, IATF, and the LGUs are on top of the situation.
“We need the cooperation of all. Let us follow the guidelines set by the DOH and continue to observe minimum health protocols,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Pasay City government placed 64 barangays under granular lockdown to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in the city.
As of. Jan 8, the city logged 1,750 (7.31 percent) active cases, bringing to 23,942 the total number of COVID-19 cases.
Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion on Monday concurred with the decision to stay at Alert Level 3.
“Alert Level 3 at this point in time, to me, is sufficient. People are not going out. On top of that, I mean, you have people who just don’t want to go out. The Omicron spread is just tremendous,” Concepcion said, referring to the highly contagious variant of the coronavirus.