Duque: Metro cases reach peak; OCTA: Omicron wave over by April
The COVID-19 alert level in Metro Manila is “ready” to be downgraded to Alert Level 2 should it meet the criteria set by the government, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Monday.
This as the surge in COVID-19 cases has peaked in Metro Manila, the Department of Health (DOH) chief said, amid a steady decline in the number of new infections reported over the last few days.
In a briefing with President Rodrigo Duterte late Monday, Duque also said the Inter-Agency Task Force will discuss Thursday if the National Capital Region “is already ready to deescalate to Alert Level 2, given our metrics now.”
“Oo, handa naman ang Metro Manila. Maganda ang ating vaccination coverage. So, maganda ang tiwala o ang confidence na maaayos natin ‘yung pagsunod sa minimum public health standards,” he said in a Laging Handa briefing when asked if the capital region is ready to go down to a less restrictive alert level in February.
[Yes, Metro Manila is ready (to go down a level). The vaccination coverage (in the region) is good, and we have great confidence that we can ask the public to follow minimum public health standards.]
“It seems like it has peaked already as we’ve been seeing a continuous decline in COVID-19 cases in the NCR as well as a decrease in its contributions to the total caseload,” Duque added in the online briefing.
“Ang porsyento ng mga bagong kaso ay unti-unti na bumababa. Hopefully magpatuloy ito para makapag deescalate tayo to alert level 2 lalo sa NCR. Binabantayang maigi ang Visayas and Mindanao dahil pataas ang mga kaso. Maganda po ang NCR, mabilis na bumababa nagplaplateau ang ating cases,” he said.
[The percentage of new cases is decreasing steadily. Hopefully this continues so that wwe can deescalate to alert level 2, especially in the NCR. We are watching Visayas and Mindanao closely because cases are rising there. But NCR is going well, the cases are plateauing fast.]
Among the criteria is the two-week growth rate must be at moderate risk and the average daily attack rate must be at around one to seven cases per 100,000 population. The health care utilization rate must also be 49 percent and below.
“It’s automatic, if we hit those criteria, then we will go down to Alert Level 2,” Duque said.
Data from the DOH showed that 48 percent of the ICU beds in NCR are utilized while 46 percent of the isolation beds are in use.
This dovetailed with the monitoring of the independent OCTA Research Group, which expressed hope Monday that the Omicron COVID-19 variant surge would end by March or April this year.
In the same Laging Handa briefing, OCTA Research fellow Dr. Guido David said the Omicron wave may last longer across the country as it is only starting in other regions compared to the NCR, where the growth and reproduction rates were decreasing.
“The Omicron wave will last longer because even if the cases are decreasing in NCR and adjacent provinces, the cases are still increasing in other areas while others have not yet experienced it,” David said.
He said seven cities outside Metro Manila that logged record-high new COVID-19 cases, and that this surge outside Metro Manila has not yet peaked.
Citing DOH data, David said Bacolod, Baguio, Butuan, Davao City, General Santos, Iloilo City, and Mandaue recorded the highest number of new cases on Jan. 23.
Davao City recorded the highest with 1,831 new cases, followed by Baguio City with 902, and Cebu City with 846.
Baguio City recorded the highest average daily attack rate at 161.90 per 100,000 population, followed by Iloilo City at 95.84, and Cebu at 63.64.
David said the NCR recorded 5,433 new cases and had an ADAR of 61.43.
According to the DOH, 13 areas in the country are at critical risk classification for COVID-19 while only four are at high-risk classification for COVID-19.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the agency is observing several areas that have recorded increasing health care utilization such as the Cordillera Administrative Region and Region VIII.
“That’s why even if only a few patients get admitted, their hospitals get full,” Vergeire told CNN Philippines.
The DOH has previously observed an increase in the number of cases in all regions in the Philippines.
The Philippines logged 24,938 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the total number of cases to 3,442,056.
The positivity rate was at 40.6 percent, based on test results of samples from 59,896 people on Jan. 22, the latest DOH bulletin said.
There were 47 new fatalities reported, bringing the COVID-19 death toll 53,519.
There were 262,997 active cases, of which 7,944 were asymptomatic; 250,235 were mild; 3,010 were moderate; 1,499 were severe; and 309 were critical.
Nationwide, 51 percent of ICU beds, 52 percent of isolation beds, 52 percent of ward beds, and 25 percent of ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 47 percent of ICU beds, 46 percent of isolation beds, 50 percent of ward beds, and 27 percent of ventilators, were in use.
In a televised public briefing, Duque described as “good” the NCR’s vaccination coverage, saying the government is confident that people will strictly observe the minimum public health standards.
As of January 23, there were a total of 21,473,675 vaccine doses administered in the NCR, the highest among all regions, data from the National COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard show.
Since the start of the vaccination in March last year, the Philippines has administered 123,365,808 vaccine doses as of Jan. 23.
Duque noted that the ongoing vaccination and implementation of health protocols are the main responses to ending the pandemic.
The DOH said the COVID-19 surge in the Philippines was not necessarily connected to the country’s vaccination rate as countries with high vaccine coverage also experienced similar surges.
“First of all, countries with high vaccine coverage also experienced a rise in cases,” Duque said.
Duque said the country’s vaccination supply only stabilized in October 2021, unlike other countries that already had vaccines in 2020.
“They are the manufacturers of vaccines, and they have high vaccine coverage. Despite that you can see that they still have a large number of cases,” Duque said.
The DOH previously said that vaccinated individuals may still get infected with COVID-19. Vaccines, however, protect from severe infection as well as death.
Duque also said that Typhoon Odette, which devastated several provinces in December 2021, slowed down the country’s vaccination program.
Duque also described as “unfair” a World Bank assessment that said the Philippines’ vaccinations continued to lag behind its regional peers.
“That’s not right, it’s unfair that they should say it’s because our vaccination coverage is slow and that’s why cases increased. That’s not how it works,” he said.
At present, Duque said around 59.7 million Filipinos received at least one dose while 57.2 million have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Also on Monday, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said the number of areas under granular lockdown across the country has climbed to 900, amid a continued surge in COVID-19 infections.
This is a slight increase from only 700 areas as of Sunday, based on the latest data of the police force.
Most of the areas under granular lockdown are in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) at 330, followed by Ilocos Region at 233; Cagayan Valley, 212; National Capital Region, 106; and Mimaropa, 19.
From Jan. 21 to 31, three CAR provinces — Kalinga, Ifugao, and Mountain Province—are under Alert Level 4.
An escalation to Alert Level 4 means an area has reached more than 70 percent in health care utilization rate, and alarmingly high two-week growth and average daily attack rates (ADAR).