President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. retained the COVID-19 Alert Level System for the time being while a new classification system more compatible with the current milder strains is under study, the Palace said Tuesday.
In a statement, the Palace said the government will come up with a new alert level classification by mid-August.
“The alert level could be adjusted or improved if people get their booster shots,” the President said.
This developed as the Department of Health said it hopes to administer about 23 million booster shots within Marcos Jr.’s first 100 days in office.
The DOH also declared that Metro Manila and other areas will remain under Alert Level 1 until the end of July. General Santos City and 18 other localities were also de-escalated to the lower level.
The President instructed the DOH to make COVID-19 boosters more accessible to the public, Health Department officer-in-charge Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion also appealed to the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) to allow citizens to take their second boosters and avert wastage of some 1,516,040 vaccines expiring by the end of July.
He said the call aligns with the President’s goal of administering at least 23 million booster shots within his first hundred days in office.
“To avoid confusion, we will retain the alert level system for now. We are, however… studying very closely… decoupling the restrictions from the alert levels,” Marcos said during a meeting with DOH.
Vergeire said the DOH could come up with new classifications by the second week of August.
She said the country is currently experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 cases because of the highly contagious Omicron BA.5 variant.
Based on current projections, more relaxed compliance to minimum public health standards (MPHS) would result in a higher number of COVID-19 cases, Vergeire said.
However, that is preventable, she added.
The DOH is also reconstituting the member agencies of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to only those with relevant and intended functions.
Pending the reconstitution, Vergeire said they will streamline IATF meetings and processes with clear directives to assist in safe reopening and will be using the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) platform.
The platform will replace the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) to integrate it with the regular processes.
This will allow the IATF health expert groups to continue their work as they serve as the voice of science in the country.
Meanwhile, the independent OCTA Research Group said some areas, especially in Luzon, have logged an increase in new COVID-19 cases.
OCTA fellow Guido David said that based on their monitoring, a rise in positivity rate, as well as new infections in Calabarzon, Central Luzon, Western Visayas, Pangasinan, and La Union, has been observed.
Other areas that posted a spike in new cases are Cagayan, Isabela, Iloilo, Pampanga, Bulacan, Bataan, Nueva Ecija and Tarlac, he said.
David said the decoupling mentioned by the President would mean that despite the rise in cases, what is important to monitor is the health care utilization, he said.
The Philippines recorded 14,640 new COVID-19 cases in the previous week, reflecting about a 40-percent increase from a week before, data from the DOH said Monday.
This means that the country posted an average of 2,091 new cases per day from July 11 to 17, according to the DOH’s latest bulletin.
This is the first time in 21 weeks that the daily average cases reached the 2,000 level.
Overall, the country has logged a total of 3,735,383 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of Monday, of which, 20,524 are active.
The country is expected to see around 2,000 new cases daily “over the next few days,” said David.
New COVID-19 infections in Metro Manila, though, may have already peaked, he added.
The daily positivity rate in Metro Manila reached 14 percent on July 15 but this went down to 12 percent on July 17, he said.
He attributed the fresh infections to the presence of Omicron subvariants as well as the public’s complacency in observing minimum health standards.
Nearly 70.7 million people in the country have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with almost 15.1 million of them also receiving a booster shot.
More than 68.3 million others have received their first dose.
“We need to ramp up our vaccinations. We have a target for the first 100 days of this current administration. If we are able to achieve that in these 100 days, then that’s when we will discuss the possibility of easing restrictions,” Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino.
She said the President was “very keen on booster doses” as a way to raise the level of immunity in the population.
Of the 55 million fully vaccinated Filipinos against COVID-19, only 15 million individuals have availed of booster doses, data from the DOH showed.
To reach the target, the DOH and other implementing units will have to vaccinate around 397,000 people a day in the next 80 days, Vergeire said.
She added that they are looking at offering incentives—including a loosening of restrictions—to improve booster coverage.
Over the weekend, Marcos said he wants to ramp up the Philippines’ booster coverage, noting that the additional dose helped him recuperate quickly from his second bout against COVID-19 last week.
However, the President underscored there is no need to make booster shots mandatory, saying that Filipinos should still be entitled to decide on how they want to manage their health.
Marcos had also ordered the DOH to either donate to other countries or return to manufacturers COVID-19 vaccines that are about to expire, Vergeire said.
“He wanted us to further negotiate with COVAX facilities so we can negotiate to replace some of the vaccines that are about to expire,” she said.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also been talking to manufacturers if they “could extend the shelf life of these vaccines,” she said.
While the government does not want to waste vaccines, the DOH cannot just administer the nearly-expired doses to any person who wants additional protection against COVID-19, the DOH official said.
“We have always based our decisions on science and evidence,” she said.