Around 140 areas in 72 barangays in the National Capital Region (NCR) are under granular lockdown, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said Monday, a slight drop from the 171 the government reported the previous day as some villages saw their coronavirus restrictions removed.
This compares with the nationwide tally, according to the Department of Health, of some 97 areas in the country under Alert Level 4, the highest for COVID-19.
The pandemic caused at least 155 deaths in the Philippines each day in August, the highest since it began early last year, the Department of Health reported Monday.
In an update, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the 155 deaths surpassed the previous record set in April (135).
In a message to reporters, the PNP said the 140 areas could be broken down into 76 areas in 22 barangays in three cities under the Northern Police District; 19 areas in 12 barangays in two cities under the Eastern Police District; three areas in three barangays in two cities under the Southern Police District; and 42 areas in 35 barangays under the jurisdiction of the Quezon City Police District.
Although the police data did not specify which NCR villages had their granular lockdowns removed, data obtained by the Standard from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority showed there were no barangays under granular lockdown as of Sept. 20.
The MMDA data also showed that 3,093 families were affected by granular lockdowns, with the majority confined to 831 households. Shuttered “units” – unclear if housing or condominium units – were next at 101, followed by “compound” lockdowns at 48.
No areas under the Manila Police District are under granular lockdown, the PNP said, but around 333 police officers and 480 “force multipliers” were closely watching the rest of the Metro Manila areas.
Meanwhile, Vergeire said in an interview on ANC: “For now, we have 97 areas in the country where we are at Alert Level 4. And when we talk about Alert Level 4, your hospital utilization is more than 70 percent already.”
“It is that risk that we need to monitor, and we need to augment our resources so that we can further expand,” she said, as the DOH hoped that vaccinations would help lower the number of severe and critical cases in hospitals.
Also, Malacañang denied on Monday the government would implement the new alert level system nationwide by October 1.
The 5-level alert system accompanied by granular lockdowns is being tested in Metro Manila until Sept. 30 or next Thursday.
“This is just a pilot. This will not be implemented yet on a nationwide basis come October,” said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
Government hopes the system could better contain COVID-19 outbreaks and spur business activity.
The Philippines logged on Monday 18,937 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 2,385,616, as all laboratories were operational, and five labs were not able to submit their data on time, DOH reported.
The independent OCTA Research group, at the same time, said the increase in COVID-19 cases in the National Capital Region might have already peaked – which the DOH continued to dispute.
OCTA, in its latest update, said the NCR had an average of 5,319 new cases from September 13 to 19, down 13 percent from the previous week’s tally of 5,916 cases.
In the Senate, Senator Win Gatchalian urged the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and local government units to prepare areas to be placed under granular lockdown and new alert level systems ahead of time.
He said these areas to be placed under restrictions should be provided with appropriate time and not immediately subject to small-scale enforced quarantines.
“I am in favor of a granular lockdown as long as the public is informed in advance so they can plan. Like for example, if Alert Level 3 will be imposed, the capacity of restaurants is 50 percent and al fresco (restos) obviously needs more waiters,” explained Gatchalian.
The alert levels complement the declaration of granular lockdown in areas where there are known COVID-19 infections. Enforcement of the system in Metro Manila has been orderly so far and has received good feedback, the Department of Interior and Local Government said.
The country remains at high-risk classification for COVID-19, with a positive two-week case growth rate of 18 percent and an average daily attack rate of 18.56 cases per 100,000 population, the DOH said.
The DOH said it expected to see the effects of the new alert level scheme within two to three weeks.
“We just started our implementation of this pilot in the National Capital Region just last week, so we expect that we will see the changes in 2 to 3 weeks’ time after we have started this pilot implementation. It’s too early now to say that there is that effect already,” Vergeire told ANC’s Headstart.
Vergeire said apart from granular lockdowns, the new strategy also boosted the interventions to be used, such as active case-finding, intensive tracing of contacts, testing and immediate isolation and improvement in vaccination coverage.
In related developments, the virulent Delta variant is now the most common in the Philippines, according to the DOH, as it reported an additional 319 cases of the more transmissible virus.
Delta, which drove India’s infection and death toll to record high, is now the country’s “most common lineage among sequenced samples as of the latest full genome sequencing run,” said Vergeire.
Of the 12,530 sequenced samples with lineages, the country has detected 3,027 or 24.16 percent of Delta cases.
The tally includes 2,734 or 21.82 percent of Beta cases (South Africa) and 2,461 or 19.64 percent of Alpha cases (United Kingdom).
OCTA said the reproduction number, which refers to the number of people that each case can infect, decreased to 1.14 from 1.37 a week ago. A reproduction number below one indicates that the spread of the virus is slowing down.
The positivity rate — the rate at which people test positive for the virus out of all who have been tested — fell to 23 percent from 25 percent.
“The indications are that the surge may have already peaked in the NCR, but the decrease in cases needs to be sustained before we can establish with certainty that cases have already peaked,” OCTA said.
“There may still be spikes in new cases in the NCR over the next week due to some reporting backlog, but unless the trends change, the daily average in new cases in the NCR should continue to decrease,” OCTA said.