But curb upgrade an option if healthcare capacity breaks 70% mark
Metro Manila will likely remain under Alert Level 3 as long as the health care utilization rate stays below 70 percent, health officials said Thursday, even as it experiences what independent researchers call a “severe outbreak.”
The independent OCTA Research Group said Metro Manila continued to experience a severe outbreak as its COVID-19 average daily attack rate (ADAR) climbed to 111.8 percent, up from 89.42 percent on Jan. 11.
ADAR pertains to the average number of new cases in a period per 100,000 people.
But in an interview on CNN, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said keeping the National Capital Region under Alert Level 3 was the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), which he chairs.
Thursday’s data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed that 58 percent of the ICU beds in Metro Manila were occupied while 54 percent of the isolation beds were in use.
“They’re well within the moderate risk classification. So unless these breach the 70 percent utilization rate both for total beds and ICU beds, we will recommend keeping the status quo,” Duque said.
In a separate online briefing, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said cases remain manageable at this time.
“If you escalate to Alert Level 4, this means that the health care utilization rate is at 71 perent. What is higher at this time is the epidemic growth at more than 200 percent in NCR as well as the ADAR,” Vega said.
“But what’s more important is HCUR, which is still low in NCR, it’s at the border between low and moderate at 60 percent,” Vega said.
Vega acknowledged, however, that the health care utilization rate of some areas in the region has breached 70 percent.
“There are areas like San Juan, Taguig, Quezon City, and Marikina, that have a high HCUR of above 71 percent,” he said.
“We need to coordinate or transfer patients that are really in need of admission to hospitals that have the capacity to accept them,” he added.
Duque said other regions may eventually follow the same COVID-19 pattern of NCR.
Duque said he was most concerned about the spread of the Omicron variant in the NCR, Region 4-A, Region 3, Region 1, and the Cordillera Administrative Region.
“Of course, NCR is the major region, the epicenter of this wave or surge. And then you have Region 4-A or Calabarzon, Region 3, Central Luzon, and then Region 1, Ilocos Region, and then Cordillera Administrative Region,” he said.
“And also, I think, even Region 6 is showing a continuing increase in the cases,” he added.
In the same briefing, Vega said 3,114 health care workers in Metro Manila were undergoing isolation amid the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases. These make up 11 percent of the 26,000 health care workers in government institutions, he said.
“Our health care workers really had reinfection or breakthrough [infections] because they were the first line in hospitals who helped COVID-19 patients,” he said.
Vega said despite this, the cases are still manageable.
Hospitals, he said, were adjusting by closing down some services and elective surgery.
Also on Thursday, a lawmaker from Rizal asked the IATF to consider the economic effects of an Alert Level 4 before imposing it in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
“We cannot afford to lose much-needed money as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that requires a lot of funds. As such, I appeal to the IATF not to impose Alert Level 4 and instead, do everything not to reach the point that it will be necessary,” Assistant Majority Leader and Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles said.
Nograles said the P3 billion in weekly losses due to Alert Level 3 was already too costly. “I think this is the reason why all of the mayors of Metro Manila also prefer not to further restrict economic activity,” he added.
Nograles said workers would bear the brunt of a stricter quarantine status.
AP Party-list nominee Ronnie Ong also appealed to the government to refrain from “declaring another economically debilitating lockdown.”
Instead, Ong said the government should invest in providing free antigen and RT-PCR tests to allow health authorities to properly segregate and isolate those who are sick without disrupting the lives and livelihood of those who are COVID-free.
“Declaring another quarantine lockdown in Metro Manila and its nearby areas because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, would only destroy the momentum of the country’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), which represent 99.5 percent of all businesses in the country and employ more than 62 percent of the total labor force,” Ong said in a statement.
Ong said that after the country shifted to Alert Level 3, MSMEs flourished again and the country’s economy was getting back on track. Another lockdown, he said, would be disastrous.
“Many businesses are still barely recovering and have invested everything they have just to recover from almost two years of financial hemorrhage,” Ong said.
Instead of resorting to sweeping community quarantines, the IATF should manage the COVID-19 problem through massive vaccination, mass testing, and effective contact tracing.
He noted that although the government has already achieved great success in its mass vaccination program, it has yet to be equipped with an effective surveillance mechanism which can be only done through mass testing and proper contact tracing.