The Palace on Friday released amended guidelines in the pilot implementation of Alert Level 4 in Metro Manila as the country continued to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque said some of the amendments would take effect starting Oct. 1 should the National Capital Region remain under Alert Level 4.
Under the new guidelines, individuals who are allowed to leave their homes can do outdoor exercises within their general area of residence.
This shall take effect immediately.
Wakes, funerals, inurnment of the remains of a person who died of COVID-19, "regardless of community quarantine [level]," would now be allowed. This will also be implemented immediately.
All contact sports are still not allowed, except those being conducted in “a bubble.”
Personal care establishments and home services are still not allowed.
These include aesthetic and cosmetic services or procedures, make-up services, spas, reflexology, aesthetics, wellness, and holistic services and other similar procedures, Roque said.
This developed as the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday active cases in Metro Manila could reach 58,117 by September 30, before dropping to 54,780 by October 15 and 46,563 by October 31.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in an online briefing, said the peak in terms of active cases might take place on October 1, at 58,124.
The DOH also projected there could be 6,085 new cases in the National Capital Region by September 30, with the peak possibly this Friday, September 24, at 6,176 cases.
The DOH said daily COVID-19 cases could hit 4,450 by October 31.
Metro Manila reported 4,505 new infections on Thursday, bringing the total number of active cases to 41,609, according to DOH data.
“These projections are not set in stone primarily because these are also based on the assumptions and the changes in our actual case trend,” Vergeire said.
“We remain cautious in interpreting our numbers. While we are seeing signs of decline in cases, it is important to keep in mind that our trend is also affected by factors such as our testing output and the detection activities such as active case finding and testing,” said Vergeire.
Vergeire said the number of tests done in Metro Manila as of September 21 declined from 287,548 the previous week to 258,047 recently, reflecting a 10.3 percent decrease.
This translated to a lower number of positive individuals, from 66,654 to 50,194.
“We are currently assessing the reasons for this decline and if it reflects a true decline in cases or just affected by the other factors such as ongoing active case finding, contact tracing, and the use of the antigen to complement the RT-PCR testing,” she said.
She also said the NCR’s average daily attack rate remains at high risk at 38.04 cases per 100,000 population, the highest among all of the regions in the country.
Earlier this month, the DOH said daily coronavirus cases in the NCR would likely be between 16,000 and 43,000 unless the national and local governments beef up virus containment measures.
However, Dr. Guido David, of the OCTA Research Group, said the capital region's COVID-19 reproduction number has slid further.
In a tweet, David said NCR's COVID-19 reproduction number went down to 0.97 from the 0.99 reported the previous day.
Reproduction number refers to the number of people that each case can infect.
Metro Manila is currently under Alert Level 4, the second highest in the new five-level alert system being pilot-tested by the government amid the pandemic.
Based on the new guidelines, areas under Alert Level 4 are those with COVID-19 case counts that are high or increasing while total beds and ICU beds are at high utilization rate.
Under this alert level, outdoor or al fresco dining will be allowed at maximum of 30 percent venue or seating capacity regardless of vaccination status of customers.
Indoor dine-in services may be allowed at a limited 10 percent venue/seating capacity but will cater only to individuals fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
There are also restrictions on personal care services, religious gatherings, and attendance at wakes and burials, among others. Curfew is also shorter at 10 p.m. to 4 a.m.
In other developments, the DOH is investigating a reported drop in COVID-19 testing before it could say that the pandemic situation in the NCR has eased, the agency said.
The DOH data showed that nationwide testing declined to 539,229 this week from last week's 569,213.
Testing in the NCR dropped to 258,047 this week, from last week's 287,548.
As of September 23, Metro Manila is the region with the greatest number of new COVID-19 patients with 4,505 cases.
About a quarter of NCR's cases, or 1,243 patients, are in Quezon City, Metro Manila's largest city.
Recent weeks have seen a continued rise in COVID-19 cases due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
Meanwhile, the number of those who tested positive for COVID-19 through rapid antigen tests would now be included in the Philippines' case total, Malacañang said on Friday, as the country continued to battle a spike in infections most likely driven by the Delta variant.
In a public briefing, Roque said the decision was approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 to see the bigger picture on the country's pandemic situation.
Roque emphasized that local health authorities, which include the regional IATF and the Department of Health's Center for Health Development, would monitor the allocation and the use of antigen kits.
They must ensure that the antigen line tests are consolidated by health facilities, localities, as well as temporary treatment and monitoring facilities.
Roque said the Department of Health’s Center for Health Development in Metro Manila has been instructed to facilitate the registration of facilities using rapid antigen kits.
The DOH-CHD in the country’s metropolis has also been told to ensure that antigen line list will be collected and consolidated from health facilities, temporary treatment and monitoring facilities, and their own local government units for submission to the agency.
Roque said the augmentation of disease surveillance staff and encoders have been considered to ensure that line lists are generated and submitted on a daily basis.
During the Laging Handa briefing, Roque said the new policy on the utilization of rapid antigen kits would allow the government to get a “better picture” of total COVID-19 cases recorded nationwide.
Roque, nevertheless, said individuals who received a positive result after taking an antigen test will still have to undergo a confirmatory test.
But DOH maintained its stance against the use of rapid antigen tests as a confirmatory test for COVID-19, saying this should not be used in settings with low prevalence of the disease of the population with no known exposure.