COVID-19 data analysts and doctors on Sunday cautioned the government against easing to Alert Level 1 too soon, saying other indicators apart from the number of daily new cases should be considered in relaxing restrictions.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año agreed, cautioning that the National Capital Region should not be downgraded yet from Alert Level 2 especially with the ongoing national election campaign.
The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) will update quarantine guidelines, effective February 15 to 28, on Monday.
OCTA Research Group fellow Dr. Guido David said it would be better for the NCR and its surrounding areas to ease to Alert Level 1 — the lowest in a five-tier alert level system that dictates restrictions — by March.
David said it is possible for NCR to be classified as “very low risk” to COVID-19 around that period.
This was as the Philippines logged on Sunday 3,050 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest so far this year, bringing the total to 3,637,280, the Department of Health (DOH) reported.
Positivity rate was at 11.7 percent, based on 31,403 individuals tested for COVID-19 on February 11, also the lowest since Dec. 29 last year.
All laboratories were operational, but two laboratories were not able to submit their data on time.
“In the coming days, we really need to be on guard, as the election nears, poll activities are getting more intense especially at the start of the local election period,” Ano said in a radio interview.
Candidates for the House of Representatives, regional, provincial, city, and municipal positions will begin their campaign on March 25.
“Given two weeks, I think we could be okay to deescalate to Alert Level 1,” David added in an interview on ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.
Even though NCR is currently classified “low risk” based on OCTA’s standards, the group still hopes the region will have a lower positivity rate and average daily attack rate (ADAR) when it relaxes restrictions, David said.
NCR’s positivity rate is still at 8.6 percent while the ADAR is at 5, David said.
“We’re still hoping we can lower the positivity rate, down to at least 5 percent,” he said, referring to the World Health Organization’s benchmark.
“We could be a little bit more cautious in our approach,” David added.
In a separate TeleRadyo interview, Philippine College Physicians (PCP) President Dr. Maricar Limpin also said the government should look at the positivity rate and ADAR before shifting to Alert Level 1.
“What we fear is relaxing restrictions too quickly,” Limpin said.
“Let’s be sure that we’re not just looking at the number of cases reported by the DOH. Let’s also see if we’ve prepared an entire area or the entire country for Alert Level 1,” she said.
David said the number of COVID-19 cases in some areas remain high even though they are declining, citing the Cordillera region, Iloilo City, and parts of Mindanao.
David said there is also a need to get more people vaccinated and boosted against the respiratory illness “to prevent future surges.”
The country saw a spike in new cases beginning late December until last month due to the omicron variant.
Under Alert Level 1, intrazonal and interzonal travel would be allowed despite age and comorbidity, according to the DOH website.
All establishments and activities, meanwhile, will be permitted to operate “full on-site or venue/seating capacity,” the DOH said.
David and Limpin echoed the reminders of authorities for the public to continue following the minimum health protocols.
“When we say Alert Level 1, only minimum health standards will be left and then everything is already allowed, all activities are almost 100 percent. We might not be able to handle it,’’ Año added.
Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police Public Information Office chief, Brig. Gen. Roderick Alba, reminded the public to continue practicing physical distancing and avoid public displays of affection when they celebrate Valentine’s Day on Monday.
In a statement sent to reporters on Sunday, Alba said they acknowledge the “celebration of love’ but the coronavirus does not.
“May we remind the public to avoid crowding or gathering in public areas. Also, let us avoid public display of affection so we can set a good example to others. Part of the protocol is to still wear face masks,” Alba said.
“Let us show that love to our countrymen by contributing toward healthy and safe living.”