The Department of Health has cautioned against rushing to relax quarantine restrictions in the National Capital Region, saying it was too early to make adjustments as it is still assessing the downtrend in cases.
The DOH issued the warning after Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Benhur Abalos said there may be a shift to a looser Alert Level 3 next month as COVID-19 indicators continue to improve.
The DOH said it needs more time to assess the COVID-19 situation in Metro Manila, saying the decline in virus infections could be caused by the use of antigen tests, which is not yet counted in the government tally, instead of RT-PCR tests.
“We are studying everything. We have just finished one week in implementing this pilot so we need a longer period to assess,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
“This is so we see if the decline is organic and we can attribute it to how effective our response is,” she said.
Vergeire said the DOH will gradually include antigen results in the daily tally starting next week.
“We will have a qualifier on the number of RT-PCR and antigen tests conducted,” she said.
She said the DOH is investigating the decline in the number of COVID-19 tests conducted by designated laboratories.
One of the factors that they are investigating, Vergeire said, is the use of the antigen COVID-19 test instead of the RT-PCR test.
Earlier, National Task Force deputy chief administrator Secretary Vince Dizon warned the country isn’t out of the woods yet given the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant and the lack of health care workers that has put a strain on hospitals.
“This is I think our biggest challenge now...Even if there seems to be a decline–a slight decline in cases–these cases are still very high.
And our hospitals are still overburdened,” Dizon said amid calls from the private sector and some government officials to further ease restrictions, especially in Metro Manila.
Abalos, for his part, said based on data from the independent OCTA Research Group, Metro Manila could be downgraded to Level 3 from the current Alert Level 4.
“Based on data from OCTA, the reproduction rate from a high of 1.90 on Aug. 8 decreased to 1.39 on Sept. 2, and 1.03 on Sept. 22. We see it is going down,” he said.
“Even the one week growth rate is now negative, that's why the indications are all good. We hope that by the end of the one week, Metro Manila will shift to Alert Level 3,” Abalos added.
Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III, however, said the five-tier Alert Level system will likely be extended until October.
“Based on our meetings, there are indications that we will extend the pilot testing in the NCR. Most probably, the public should expect that we will continue the Alert Level system until October,” he said.
“We are seeing its effects, not to mention, its secondary purpose which is to open the economy and to allow the people to go out for them to be able to earn for their living,” Densing added.
The country on Saturday logged 16,907 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 2,470,235 as four laboratories were not able to submit their data on time.
The DOH also reported no new deaths on Saturday due to technical issues.
“No deaths were reported today due to technical issues in COVID-Kaya.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology is currently addressing issues encountered by the system. When the issue is resolved, the succeeding increase in deaths in the following reports will be due to the previous days' backlogs,” the DOH said.
The DOH also reported that nationwide, 76 percent of the ICU beds, 64 percent of the isolation beds, 70 percent of the ward beds, and 55 percent of ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 76 percent of the ICU beds, 54 percent of the isolation beds, 68 percent of the ward beds, and 60 percent of ventilators were in use.