The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday identified Western Visayas, Eastern Visayas, the Davao region, and Soccskargen as high-risk areas for COVID-19 due to their high average daily attack rates (ADAR) and hospital bed occupancy.
In an online forum, Dr. Alethea de Guzman, chief DOH epidemiologist, said low vaccine supply, non-compliance with health protocols, mass gatherings and mobility of people were behind the soaring COVID-19 cases outside the National Capital Region.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Metro Manila and its neighboring provinces are not being favored, but the decision to deliver the bulk of the vaccine supply in these areas is based on scientific inputs from health experts to stem the spread of COVID-19.
Quoting health experts, Roque said creating an “artificial boundary” or wall around Metro Manila and the Plus 10 priority areas for vaccination – Bacolod, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, Baguio, Zamboanga, Dumaguete, Tuguegarao, General Santos, Naga, and Legazpi – would ensure the safety of those not vaccinated.
“If you solve the problem here, you will solve the problem of the entire country because the cases in Metro Manila are the ones spreading across the country,” Roque said.
“There is a science behind this,” the Palace official added.
The Philippines is aiming to inoculate at least 50 percent or about 50 million of its people to achieve “population protection.”
But given the tight supply of vaccines worldwide, the country has so far administered more than 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines – of which more than 2.5 million were given as second dose and over 7.5 million as first dose as of June 27.
For his part, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III blamed the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines across the globe for the Philippines’ poor performance in the latest COVID Resilience Ranking.
In a TV interview, Duque said the country’s COVID-19 vaccine coverage is low because rich nations have hoarded supplies.
“Vaccines only arrive in trickles in poor or developing countries like ours. One big problem is the global failure to share vaccines equitably to accelerate our recovery from this pandemic,” he said in Filipino.
Under the COVID Resilience Ranking, which scores 53 economies, the Philippines ranked 52nd in June with a score of 45.3, ahead only of Argentina with 37.
Also on Wednesday, the Palace released the list of “green countries” or low-risk jurisdictions of origin for arriving fully-vaccinated Filipinos who may now enjoy a shorter seven-day mandatory quarantine.
The list includes China, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Brunei, Laos, Palau, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam, among others.
Returning Filipinos from these areas will be tested on the fifth day. If they test negative, they will be allowed to finish the rest of the 14-day quarantine at home.
Malacañang likewise disclosed the final community quarantine classifications for July 1 to 15.
Metro Manila, Bulacan and Rizal will remain under General Community Quarantine with some restrictions while Laguna and Cavite will be under GCQ with heightened restrictions.
Ifugao province was removed in the list of areas under GCQ and was placed under the loosest level of Modified GCQ.
With the inclusion of Apayao that was previously under the stricted Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine, there are now 25 areas under GCQ: Baguio City, the city of Santiago in Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Batangas, Quezon, Guimaras, Aklan, Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, Antique, Capiz, Zamboanga Sibugay, City of Zamboanga, Iligan City, General Santos City, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, Cotabato, South Cotabato, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Sur, and Cotabato City.
The remaining 20 areas other MECQ are as follows: Cagayan, Apayao, Bataan, Lucena City, Puerto Princesa, Naga City, Iloilo City, Iloilo province, Negros Oriental, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City, Davao Oriental, Davao Occidental, Davao de Oro, Davao del Sur, Davao Del Norte, Butuan City, Dinagat Islands, and Surigao del Sur.
De Guzman, for her part, said all four regions—Western Visayas, Eastern Visayas, the Davao region and Soccskargen—posted an ADAR higher than seven cases per 100,000 population, classifying them as high-risk areas.
“This means their daily new cases are higher-than-usual in regard to their population,” De Guzman said in Filipino.
“We are also seeing a corresponding increase in their health care and ICU utilization rates,” she added.
Since Metro Manila has been declared the epicenter of the pandemic, De Guzman said people living in the new so-called “high risk areas” were complacent and failed to strictly adhere to protocols imposed by the DOH and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
She said the DOH has yet to ascertain if the spike in cases was also due to the presence of more infectious COVID-19 variants.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, however, said they see an increase in variant cases in some areas that are experiencing spikes.
Vergeire said increased mobility, failure to comply with public health standards, and slow action from local governments could also be driving the increasing cases in areas outside of NCR Plus.
In particular, De Guzman said critical care capacity in Cagayan, Bataan, Naga City, Iloilo City, Antique, Zamboanga del Norte, Davao City, South Cotabato, and Lucena City fell under the critical level of 85 percent or higher.
The ICU bed utilization rates in La Union, Tacloban City, Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Occidental, Davao del Norte, General Santos City, Cotabato City, Baguio City, and Makati City are considered high risk, with an occupancy rate of between 70 percent and 84 percent.
In Davao (Region 11), some 71.43 percent of hospital beds were occupied while 86.22 percent of ICU beds were in use as of June 28.
De Guzman said ICU utilization rate was also high in Western Visayas (Region 6) at 83.17 percent and in Soccskargen (Region 12) at 74.29 percent.
In Eastern Visayas (Region 8), both hospital and ICU bed occupancy rates were in the safe zone, but it was still tagged as a high-risk area due to its ADAR of 7.05 cases per 100,000 population.
Caraga (Region 13) and Central Visayas (Region 7) were also classified as moderate-risk areas for COVID-19 due to a high ADAR or a positive two-week case growth rate.
De Guzman said the Philippines averaged 5,749 new cases daily from June 23 to 29, only slightly lower than the average of 5,789 daily new infections from June 16 to 22.
In Luzon, nearly all regions are showing a “general decline in cases” except for Mimaropa (Region 4B), which is exhibiting an increase in infections.
Among the regions in the Visayas, Region 7 is experiencing a plateauing of cases after a sharp decline, Region 8 is seeing an increase in infections, while Region 6 is posting a continuous decrease.
In Mindanao, only Davao (Region 11) is still showing an increase in cases while all other regions are on a downward COVID-19 trend.
The Philippines logged 4,509 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 1,412,559.
This was the second time this week that the DOH reported fewer than 5,000 new cases of COVID-19.
The DOH reported 105 new fatalities, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 24,662.
The DOH also reported 5,839 persons who recently recovered, bringing the total recoveries to 1,339,248.
There were 48,649 active cases, of which 90.6 percent were mild, 4.1 percent were asymptomatic, 1.5 percent were critical, 2.2 percent were severe, and 1.63 percent were moderate.
Nationwide, 55 percent of the ICU beds, 47 percent of the isolation beds, 44 percent of the ward beds, and 34 percent of the ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 42 percent of the ICU beds, 39 percent of the isolation beds, 35 percent of the ward beds, and 31 percent of the ventilators, were in use.