The Department of Health (DOH) expects a happier Yuletide season this year, but it cannot say for certain whether it will allow Christmas parties despite the downtrend in COVID-19 numbers, Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said Friday.
Vergeire warned that such gatherings would only put attendees at risk of contracting the disease.
“Now when we talk about parties, we know that this will comprise of gatherings, crowding, close contact, sometimes in enclosed spaces, so there is a possibility that people will get sick,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.
The independent OCTA Research Group recently announced that all cities in the National Capital Region are now at moderate risk for COVID-19.
Citing the lowered risk, OCTA fellow Guido David said Christmas parties could be held this year provided that all the attendees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Meanwhile, a former adviser to the National Task Force on COVID-19 warned that the National Capital Region could experience a rebound in COVID-19 cases once it shifts from Alert Level 4 to Level 3 on Oct. 16.
Speaking in an interview over CNN Philippines, Anthony Leachon said Metro Manila is not ready yet to ease quarantine restrictions and increase business capacity due to its high positivity rate.
While the positivity rate in the capital region has declined from 29 percent to 14 percent, Leachon said it is still far from the below 5 percent target set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
"We need to put the positivity rate below 5 percent and increase vaccination rate to at least 70 percent," he said.
"That's the time we can open our economy or else we'll have trouble in terms of having a rebound in the next few weeks," he added.
The former president of the Philippine College of Physicians also said the government needs to identify which localities still have a high positivity rate, so more tests can be conducted in these areas.
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority reported that NCR has vaccinated 78 percent of its eligible population, but it is far from the 90 percent needed to achieve herd immunity.
Metro Manila will shift to a more relaxed alert level status from Oct. 16 to 31 after a steady decline in new cases.
But Vergeire said COVID-19 alert levels are not appealable, as these are set based on metrics.
“First of all, we need to understand that the alert levels are determined by the DOH. These are not subject to discussion or debate. This is not subject to appeals,” Vergeire said during a media forum.
“The alert levels are classifications based on metrics, scientific metrics that we have,” she said.
Vergeire issued the remark amid the concerns of healthcare workers that the downgrading of the Alert Level 4 in the National Capital Region (NCR) was done too early.
In an interview on radio dzBB on Friday, Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III said the government has identified local government units outside NCR that will be under the alert level system.
“We have identified local governments outside NCR where the alert level system will be started,” he said.
Vergeire said the alert level in the NCR was lowered because metrics in NCR already “warranted the deescalation.”
The Philippines logged 7,625 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total number of infections to 2,705,792.
There were 203 new fatalities, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 40,424.
The DOH also reported 13,363 new recoveries, bringing the total recoveries to 2,586,369.
There were 78,999 active cases, of which 80.6 percent were mild, 6.4 percent were asymptomatic, 1.7 percent were critical, 3.9 percent were severe, and 7.38 percent were moderate.
Nationwide, 66 percent of ICU beds, 49 percent of isolation beds, 49 percent of ward beds, and 47 percent of ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 64 percent of ICU beds, 39 percent of isolation beds, 46 percent of ward beds, and 48 percent of ventilators, were in use.
Also on Friday, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases revised the list of countries under the Red, Green and Yellow category, as well as the testing and quarantine protocols for arriving passengers, Malacanang said.
IATF spokesman Harry Roque said Romania is the only country that has been included in the red list.
On the other hand, there are around 49 states and jurisdictions on the green list, Roque said.
Included in the green list are Algeria, American Samoa, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cayman Islands, Chad, China (Mainland), Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Cook Islands, Eritrea, Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Gibraltar, Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region of China), Kiribati, Madagascar, Mali, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Montserrat, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Niue, North Korea, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Poland, Saba (Special Municipality of the Kingdom of the Netherlands), Saint Helena, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Sint Eustatius, Solomon Islands, Sudan, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tokelau, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu and Yemen.
All other countries and jurisdictions not mentioned are classified as Yellow List.
In addition, the IATF streamlined and codified testing and quarantine protocols for international arriving passengers entering the Philippines.
The testing and quarantine protocols for Green List are as follows: First, for fully vaccinated foreign nationals, a negative RT-PCR test shall be required to be taken within 72 hours prior to departure from the country of origin. Upon arrival, no facility-based quarantine will be further required but the passenger is enjoined to self-monitor for any symptoms until the 14th day.
Second, for fully vaccinated overseas Filipino workers or non-overseas Filipino workers, they can choose facility-based quarantine until the release of a negative RT-PCR test taken in the quarantine facility upon arrival, or no facility-based quarantine after getting a negative RT-PCR test within 72 hours prior to departure from the country of origin but the passenger is enjoined to self-monitor for any symptoms until the 14th day. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
Third, for unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or individuals whose vaccination status cannot be independently verified, and those vaccinated but failed to comply with the test-before-travel requirements, they shall undergo a facility-based quarantine until the release of a negative RT-PCR test taken on the 5th day. In the case of foreign nationals, they shall be required to secure hotel reservations for at least six days.
Meanwhile, inbound international travel of all persons, regardless of vaccination status, coming from or who have been to the Red List within the last 14 days prior to arrival to the Philippines will not be allowed.
Only Filipinos returning to the country through government-initiated repatriation, non-government-initiated repatriation, and Bayanihan Flights may be allowed entry, subject to testing and quarantine protocols.