Gov’t won’t say COVID under control just yet

The Philippines will not declare anytime soon that it has already controlled the COVID-19 pandemic as there are still uncertainties, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Thursday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire made the comment a day after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the country will ask the World Health Organization (WHO) if it can declare that the pandemic has been controlled.

“We are not going to declare this soon. We are just coordinating with WHO on the process and the determinants of disease control or containment,” Vergeire said in a message to reporters.

Vergeire, during a media forum, said the DOH cannot yet definitely say that the country has controlled the virus.

“We can’t definitely say that. There are still a lot of uncertainties.

We experienced in the past that cases will go down for a time but then they’ll increase, so we need a longer time to evaluate,” Vergeire said.

Vergeire added that each region in the country is facing a different situation on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Maybe the National Capital Region has high vaccination rates and its community response has been intensified, but if we compare it to other areas in the country, some still have low vaccination rates,” she said in Filipino.

“We see that we still need to help some of the local governments to intensify their community response,” she added.

Vergeire said a country’s health system must be prepared for it to be able to declare that it has controlled an illness.

Duque had said the DOH is seeking guidance from WHO following the decrease of the positivity rate in the country, which has been below 5 percent since Nov. 13, meeting the benchmark of the global organization.

The Philippines on Thursday reached its lowest number of active COVID-19 cases at 17,796 this year as it logged 975 new cases, which brought the total number of cases to 2,829,618.

The active cases were only 0.6 percent of the total, according to the latest DOH bulletin. The last time active cases fell below 18,000 was on June 11 last year, during which 17,754 were recorded.

The number of fresh cases is the sixth lowest this year, following 957 infections logged on Jan. 4.

There were 193 new fatalities, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 47,875.

The DOH also reported 1,029 new recoveries, bringing the total recoveries to 2,763,947.

Of the active cases, 52.7 percent were mild, 5.4 percent were asymptomatic, 6 percent were critical, 14.4 percent were severe, and 21.49 percent were moderate.

The COVID-19 positivity rate remained below 5 percent, with 2.8 percent.

Nationwide, 30 percent of ICU beds, 27 percent of isolation beds, 16 percent of ward beds, and 19 percent of ventilators, were in use.

In Metro Manila, 29 percent of ICU beds, 25 percent of isolation beds, 20 percent of ward beds, and 21 percent of ventilators, were in use.

A public health expert on Thursday warned the public to always be on guard despite a declining trend in COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Nina Gloriani, head of the country's vaccine expert panel, during a TeleRadyo interview, said complacency on health protocols could lead to a COVID-19 resurgence, which parts of Europe are currently facing.

“What's the reason behind their increase in [COVID-19] cases?,” she said.

“They have eased and relaxed [restrictions]. They have discarded rules on [wearing] masks, distancing. They're having parties and games. All of those that are prohibited.,” she said.

Gloriani cautioned against gathering with unvaccinated family members and bringing children to shopping malls, as the holiday season nears, saying the risk of COVID-19 infection remains.

“Even if 94 percent in Metro Manila are fully vaccinated, there's still 6 percent who have not received the jab,” she said.

She said there could also be an influx of people from other regions, where immunization coverage is low.

The DOH on Thursday reminded parents not to bring minors to crowded areas because this would defeat the intention of eased quarantine restrictions.

This comes with the looming recommendation of the pandemic inter-agency task force (IATF) on minors' restrictions, after reports this month that toddlers as young as 2 years old tested positive for COVID-19.

On Nov. 12, a pediatric physician said she admitted a 1-year-old patient with bronchopneumonia, a possible complication of COVID-19, after being brought to a public market.

The doctor lamented that the mom appeared "proud," saying she had gone out with the baby for a while.

Vergeire said the objectives of the IATF in allowing children to go outdoors is to socialize, get sunlight, and to be able to exercise.

It is not the objective of the IATF to let children be brought to crowded places, she added.

The National Capital Region's 13 million people shifted to Alert 2 from Alert 3 last Nov. 4, allowing more businesses to reopen and easing restrictions on going out.

Fairs, "peryas," or kids' amusement areas such as playgrounds, playrooms, and kiddie rides were also allowed to operate under the looser quarantine level.

While DOH earlier described the case of the 2-year-old as an "isolated" one, local authorities argued that there should be an age limit for minors who go to malls, which are enclosed areas.

Vergeire, however, emphasized that children should no longer be cooped up in their homes, and that establishments and parents should "find a way" to protect them amid the threat of COVID-19.

Topics: Department of Health , World Health Organization , Maria Rosario Vergeire , World Health Organization
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