Six more provinces will be placed under Alert Level 3 starting today (Friday).
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Palawan, Camiguin, Davao Occidental, Dinagat Islands, Tawi-Tawi and Sulu will be under Alert Level 3 until Feb. 15, 2022.
Metro Manila and several other areas are under Alert 3 until the end of the month.
On Thursday, the head of a doctor’s group said Metro Manila is not yet ready to be placed under looser quarantine restrictions, even as the number of new COVID-19 cases in the country has dropped.
The country reported 18,191 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, the third straight day the tally fell below 20,000.
But Dr. Maricar Limpin, head of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) said the real number of new cases may be much higher than official figures show.
“I think we have to bear in mind that this number may not be truly reflective of the real COVID cases that we have in the country because many of the people are actually not being tested now, so I still believe that the numbers are still quite high,” Limpin said.
“The message I’d like to relay to everyone is that we have to continue practicing the minimum public health standards so that we will not get infected.”
“And then number two, if ever the government is thinking of downgrading the alert level, I hope that this is not going to happen in the near future because I don’t think that this is the right time to do it,” she added.
She said she expects Metro Manila numbers to remain high until next week.
“So we can probably make a decision [about lowering the alert level]… by the middle of February,” she said.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases met yesterday to discuss the community quarantine alert levels but Malacañang said it will likely announce the status for Metro Manila over the weekend.
Limpin acknowledged that hospitals in the National Capital Region are feeling the impact of the lower number of daily cases.
“We are now seeing fewer number of COVID cases and this gives us some breathing space so we can attend to non-COVID cases,” she said.
“Also, the health care workers that were previously affected, or who got infected as well, are already back to work so that actually gives us more people to really man the posts,” she said.
Limpin noted, however, that COVID-19 cases seem to be increasing in the provinces.
“What we have seen during the first week of January, we are now seeing in the provinces, particularly in the Visayas and Mindanao,” she said.
The independent OCTA Research Group, meanwhile, said the reproduction number—or the number of people that one case can infect—dropped to 0.63 in Metro Manila, down from 0.71.
A reproduction number that is below 1 indicates that the transmission of the virus is slowing down.
Thursday’s new cases brought the total number of infections to 3,493,447, the Department of Health (DOH) reported.
The positivity rate was at 35.2 percent, based on 61,013 people tested on Jan. 25. This is much higher than the World Health Organization’s target of less than 5 percent.
There were 74 new fatalities, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 53,736.
The DOH also reported 22,014 new recoveries, bringing the total number of recoveries to 3,213,190.
There were 226,521 active cases, of which 6,875 were asymptomatic; 214,857 were mild; 2,971 were moderate; 1,509 were severe; and 309 were critical.
Nationwide, 49 percent of ICU beds, 50 percent of isolation beds, 51 percent of ward beds, and 25 percent of ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 41 percent of ICU beds, 39 percent of isolation beds, 47 percent of ward beds, and 26 percent of ventilators, were in use.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said other regions may soon peak in the number of COVID-19 cases after Metro Manila reached its own, based on the pattern observed previously during the surge caused by the Delta variant of COVID-19.
“When we experienced Delta, NCR was first. And then after two to three weeks, other regions followed. NCR also finished first. After two to three weeks, other regions also followed,” Vergeire told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.
She noted that the vaccination rate in Metro Manila is high, and regions should keep up to help manage and keep the pandemic under control.
“Always remember, when we talk about herd immunity, it’s not just one area in a country. Borders are porous. Even if the NCR could reach 95 percent [vaccination] but other regions remain low, we will still get the infections,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.
She reminded the public that they can still get infected despite being vaccinated, noting that the primary doses only guarantee the prevention of severe disease, hospitalization, and death.
DOH Region 9 director Joshua Brillantes, meanwhile, said the current increase in COVID-19 cases in the Zamboanga Peninsula is alarming.
Hospitals are crowded, and the DOH itself has to fill in gaps in the workforce left by medical staff who are infected with the virus. This prompted the local government unit to conduct its own mass vaccination drive.