President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday night rejected proposals to shift the country to COVID-19 Alert Level Zero, saying now is still not the right time as there are still cases of infection in the country.
“Many want to implement Alert Level] Zero. That cannot be done because there are still areas with Covid-19 cases,” Duterte said in his pre-recorded “Talk to the People” Tuesday night.
“Alert Level 1 would still be our good buffer, until such time when we record just one case or two cases all over the country. We will not lift that until we are very sure that everything is really all right.”
The President pointed out that other countries that eased their restrictions such as the United States and Japan saw another increase in COVID-19 infections.
The President said further easing the restrictions is risky as new variants of COVID-19 are being identified in other countries.
The President also reminded the public to still follow public health protocols, especially the wearing of face masks, which he called the “most basic and fundamental gadget” to guard against the virus.
The government’s pandemic task force had earlier announced that it would discuss the parameters of an Alert Level Zero as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country continues to drop and critical indicators, such as health care utilization rate, remain in the low-risk classification.
During the same broadcast, the chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., said the government is keen to address the low daily vaccination rate, particularly in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Galvez said both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Department of Health (DOH) have raised alarm over the possible surge of COVID-19 cases in BARMM, which has the lowest vaccination rate among 17 regions in the country, with only 25 percent of its target population inoculated.
Galvez said some Muslims were refusing to get vaccinated over concerns that the COVID-19 vaccines are not permissible in their religious and cultural beliefs.
Geography is also a challenge, he said.
For instance, it would take six to seven hours of travel each time the vaccination team would go to the remote areas of Tawi-Tawi and Basilan.
Galvez said the government aims to vaccinate a majority of BARMM residents.
To date, there are 66,230,305 Filipinos who have already received two primary series of COVID-19 vaccines, with 12,208,931 eligible for booster shots.
On Wednesday, an infectious disease expert said the Philippines is seeing some signs of COVID-19 endemicity despite the new threat posed by the recombinant variant Omicron XE.
In a televised public briefing, Department of Health – Technical Advisory Group member Dr. Edsel Salvaña said endemicity is a gradual process a country goes through.
“We can see the signs of endemicity here—the health system is not pressured, [admissions are] manageable, we have cure [for cases]) and we know how to prevent it with masks and vaccines. In a way, it’s becoming endemic,” Salvaña said.
Daily coronavirus cases remain low, a step forward toward endemicity, he added. However, the public has to remain vigilant in using safeguards like the minimum health protocols to avoid a possible surge in infections.
Health experts said the endemic phase means that the pandemic will not end with the virus disappearing. Even as the virus continues to circulate, enough people will gain protection from vaccination and from natural infection, resulting in less transmission and less COVID-19-related hospitalization and death.
In his presentation to Duterte Tuesday night, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the country logged only 2,548 cases for the period of March 30 to April 5 – lower than last week’s tally at 2,643.
The country’s average cases per day is 364 per day with only one case added to the severe and critical cases count.
The case fatality rate remains low at 1.61 percent while the recovery rate is high at 97.47 percent.
The positivity rate is also low at 1.8 percent out of the seven-day moving average testing output of 20,990.
Duque added that the health care utilization rate remains low with only 17.7 percent of non-intensive care units (ICU) and 15.6 percent of ICU beds used.
Out of the 6,327 total admissions, only 785 or 12.4 percent are classified as severe and critical.