A key medical association and an influential business group on Tuesday said they supported easing COVID-19 restrictions in Metro Manila to Alert Level 2, but the Palace said this would only happen if the decline in new cases and the health utilization rate can be sustained.
"We also know that gatherings happen during Christmas which could cause a spike in COVID-19 cases,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“While cases are down and data shows we can ease the alert level in Metro Manila, we cannot let our guard down. We cannot think that this pandemic is over,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Philippines logged 2,303 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to 2,792,656. This was the lowest daily number of infections reported since the 2,067 tally on March 2.
The positivity rate was at 6.8 percent, based on test results of samples from 29,679 people on Oct.31, Sunday. It was the lowest rate since Feb. 24.
Metro Manila is under Alert Level 3 from Nov. 1 to 14.
Under Alert Level 3, restaurants, gyms, and movie houses will be allowed to operate at 30 percent indoor venue capacity only for fully vaccinated customers and 50 percent outdoor venue capacity, provided that all employees are fully vaccinated.
Under Alert Level 3, the operational capacity of public transport has been raised to 70 percent.
The Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) on Tuesday supported a shift to Alert Level 2, citing the decline in COVID-19 cases.
But PCP president Dr. Maricar Limpin, interviewed on radio dzBB, also reminded the public to keep observing minimum public health standards even if the alert level is lowered.
“Based on the number of cases now, we can really lower it to Alert Level 2,” she said.
Also on Tuesday, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said it supports shifting Metro Manila to Alert Level 2.
“The easing of restriction to Alert level 2, which will allow most businesses to operate, and restaurants to increase the capacity of allowed diners is a good move, especially now as we enter the Christmas season and there is a surge in consumer spending," said PCCI president Benedicto Yujuico.
"Increasing the capacity of public transport will also support the revitalization of business and the economy," he added.
Limpin said compliance with the health protocols is the most important and most effective strategy to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Under Alert Level 2, establishments will be allowed to operate indoors at 50 percent capacity with additional 10 percent capacity if they have a safety seal. They will be allowed to operate at 70 percent capacity outdoors.
Limpin said the number of non-COVID-19 patients is increasing in hospitals, amid the decreasing number of infected patients.
More patients who were previously scared of being infected with COVID-19 are now more comfortable with going to hospitals, she said.
But Limpin also expressed hesitancy over the move to allow 70 percent capacity in public transportation, which she said would compromise social distancing.
With heavier traffic, she said, passengers would stay inside the vehicles longer, increasing the risk of infection.
On the other hand, Limpin agreed with the government move to get rid of plastic barriers inside PUVs, saying they were unnecessary.
Yujuico pointed out that businesses have lost so much money and opportunity for the past two years that it is critical that the economy be fully opened soonest to allow businesses to recover and recoup their losses. Health and safety protocols, he said, will continue to be practiced.
While the infection rate has declined, the biggest group of Philippine businesses urged the acceleration of vaccination throughout the country to help micro, small and medium-scale enterprises in the regions, many of which are in the services industries.
PCCI noted that other ASEAN countries like Thailand and Singapore haveopened up their economies including hotels, travel and tourism, which the Philippines should consider doing to slowly recover and rebuild the economy.
There were 128 new fatalities reported, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 43,404.
The Department of Health (DOH) also reported 4,677 new recoveries, bringing the total recoveries to 2,708,466.
There were 40,786 active cases, of which 71.2 percent were mild, 5.1 percent were asymptomatic, 3.2 percent were critical, 7.5 percent severe, 13.02 percent were moderate.
Active infections were also lowest since March 9, when 39,805 active cases were recorded.
Nationwide, 46 percent of ICU beds, 34 percent of isolation beds, 30 percent of ward beds, and 32 percent of ventilators, were in use.
In Metro Manila, 40 percent of ICU beds, 27 percent of isolation beds, 30 percent of ward beds, and 30 percent of ventilators, were in use.
On Wednesday, the Philippines is set to expand its pediatric vaccination to include all children aged 12 to 17. It initially rolled out the program to children with comorbidities.
The country has so far fully inoculated 27.4 million people, while 31.95 million others have received a first dose, according to government data.
The widening vaccination coverage has been cited by independent research group OCTA as among the reasons for the decline in new infections the past few weeks.
The DOH on Tuesday reported an additional 520 cases of the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 from 748 samples sequenced.
The DOH said the Delta variant remains the most common lineage sequenced nationally at 32.14 percent, followed by the Beta variant at 21.47 percent.
Also on Tuesday, the police reported a total of 10,230 quarantine violators in Metro Manila.