The Philippine National Police (PNP) said Monday it is ready to enforce the mandatory use of face shields if the government decides to reimpose the requirement in the face of the threat posed by the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority also announced on Monday it will enforce this week an afternoon rush hour number coding scheme covering private cars only.
MMDA chairman Benjamin Abalos said reimposing the car coding was one way of preventing the spread of Omicron, as it will limit people’s mobility even as traffic levels are nearing their pre-pandemic levels.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also appealed to mall operators to “be responsible enough” to control the entry of crowds in their establishments, as he scolded them for allowing masses of people to build up indiscriminately.
Meanwhile, the Philippines logged 665 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the total number of cases to 2,832,375. The new cases figure is the lowest since July 14, 2020, with 634 new cases.
The COVID-19 positivity rate was at 2.1 percent. The country’s total COVID-19 tests were 32,639, conducted on Nov. 27. This is the lowest since Nov. 23, with 2.3 percent positivity rate.
In a press briefing, PNP chief Gen. Dionardo Carlos said they would carry out the instructions of the IATF.
“If that will help in preventing the spread of COVID-19, we leave it up to the experts,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
He said their face shields have been set aside, but are still there, ready for use.
Earlier, acting Palace spokesman Karlo Nograles said the government is contemplating making the use of face shields mandatory again as added protection against COVID-19, including the Omicron variant.
As it stands, he said, the latest IATF resolution states that the use of face shields is mandatory in health care facilities and voluntary in other settings.
But he said since it adds a layer of protection, he encouraged the public to wear the face shields.
Face shields have been widely unpopular because they are unwieldy and make it difficult to breathe. Critics have also pointed out that no other country in the world mandates the use of face shields.
Moreover, a UP wind engineer, Joshua Agar from the University of the Philippines, found that the shields may actually increase risk of exposure to the coronavirus because it sucks in air particles and keeps them trapped behind the shield.
At present, the wearing of face shields on top of face masks is voluntary in areas that are under Alert Levels 1, 2 and 3. For Alert Level 4 areas, local governments and private establishments have the discretion to mandate the use of face shields.
The Palace official again reminded the public to continue observing minimum health protocols like the wearing of face masks, frequent hand washing, and physical distancing. He also urged Filipinos to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Nov. 15, President Rodrigo Duterte approved the recommendation of the IATF to lift the mandatory use of face shields and only make them voluntary in areas under Alert Level 1 to 3.
The government has updated its travel protocols to prevent the entry of the Omicron variant first reported in South Africa. It has banned inbound flights from countries that have reported cases of the Omicron variant namely South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy.
The Philippines has also suspended a policy allowing fully-vaccinated nationals of non-visa-required “green” list countries to enter the Philippines.
As for the number coding scheme, members of the Metro Manila Council (MMC) have unanimously approved the resolution on the reimplementation of the Unified Vehicular Volume Reduction Program (UVVRP) but with modification.
The MMC, composed of the 17 mayors in the National Capital Region, is the governing board and the policy-making body of the MMDA.
“The number coding scheme will be implemented any day this week during rush hour in the afternoon, 5 pm until 8 pm,” said MMC chairman Abalos Jr.
DOH Epidemiology Bureau chief Dr. Althea de Guzman said the number of new COVID-19 cases has declined by 34 percent in the recent week.
“Our epidemic curve shows that the recent cases per day are already lower than the lowest numbers after the April 2021 peak at 4,982 cases,” De Guzman said in an online media forum.
The average daily reported cases for the week of Nov. 23 to Nov. 29 is 896 or 34 percent lower than the recorded 1,353 cases from Nov. 16 to 22.
The top five regions with the greatest number of new cases are the National Capital Region (NCR) with 161 cases; Region 4-A (Calabarzon), 351 cases; Region 2, 76; Region 7, 75; and Region 6, 52.
The top five areas with the greatest number of new cases are Negros Oriental with 48; Zamboanga City, 34; Quezon City, 28; Isabela, 27; and Manila 25.
In the NCR, the latest data from the DOH showed that the average daily cases is lower than the lowest cases after the April 2021 peak at 628 cases.
“Nationally we are at a low risk case classification with a negative two week growth rate at -45 percent and we now have an average daily attack rate at 1.02 cases for every 100,000 individuals,” De Guzman said.
The low risk classification was also accompanied with low risk utilization rate of the health system’s capacity — 21.85 percent bed utilization; 16.52 percent mechanical ventilator utilization; and 26.57 intensive care unit utilization.
“The percentage of critical cases among confirmed admissions has plateaued while the percentage of severe [cases] has started to decline staring end-October,” De Guzman said.
Also on Monday, the independent OCTA Research Group said the number of active COVID-19 cases in the Philippines is expected to be nearly cut in half once the classification of cases from previous months is resolved.
A white paper released by the OCTA Research Group Fellow Guido David and Michael Tee said the number of active cases in the country should be lower by about 48 percent once old cases are resolved.
The data was based on the health bulletin released on Saturday, Nov. 27, which recorded 17,052 active cases after 899 new cases were reported.
Meanwhile, Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, called on its managers and volunteers to make the necessary adjustments through their predict, plan, prepare, and practice framework for responding to disasters and emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PRC, the largest testing center in the country, is expected to reach the 5 million testing mark within the next few days.
Gordon noted that the agency has also vaccinated almost 400,000 people through its “Bakuna Bus” initiative.
At the same time, warned the public to be more vigilant and cautious against the threat of a possible transmission of the Omicron variant.
“We should be really concerned about this new variant because it’s already spreading like wildfire. Let’s continue to wash our hands, keep our distance, get tested regularly, and strive to be fully vaccinated,” he said.