Metro Manila will remain under Alert Level 3 until the end of January despite an increasing number of Covid-19 cases in the region.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) had extended the imposition of existing restrictions in the capital region until 31 January, heeding the call of business groups to keep establishments open.
“The government is doing everything it can to prevent the spread of the disease and manage its impact on our lives. Discussions and studies among IATF members and experts are ongoing so we can impose appropriate policies,” said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.
Joining Metro Manila under Alert Level 3 from 16 to 31 January are 54 other areas, including Baguio City, Ifugao, Mountain Province, Dagupan City, Ilocos Sur, City of Santiago, Cagayan, Angeles City, Aurora, Bataan, Olongapo City, Pampanga, Zambales, Rizal, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Lucena City, Marinduque, Romblon, Camarines Norte, Catanduanes, Naga City, and Sorsogon.
Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Guimaras, Lapu-Lapu City, Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental, Ormoc City, Biliran, Eastern Samar, Leyte, Nothern Samar, Southern Leyte, and Western Samar in the Visayas were also classified under Alert Level 3.
Also placed under the said scheme are the City of Isabela, Zamboanga City, Zamboanga Del Sur, Bukidnon, Iligan City, Misamis Occidental, Misamis Oriental, Davao Del Sur, Davao Del Norte, General Santos City, South Cotabato, Surigao Del Sur, Agusan Del Norte, and Lanao Del Sur in Mindanao.
The government previously announced that Benguet, Kalinga, Abra, La Union, Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan, Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela, Quirino, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Quezon Province, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Camarines Sur, and Albay were escalated to stricter Alert Level 3 until 31 January.
Aklan, Bacolod City, Capiz, Cebu City, Mandaue City, Antique, Tacloban City, Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City, Butuan City, Agusan del Sur, and Cotabato City were also reclassified to Alert Level 3.
On the other hand, some areas were placed under a more lenient Alert Level 2.
These were Apayao, Batanes, Palawan, Masbate Siquijor, Zamboanga Del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Camiguin, Lanao Del Norte, Davao De Oro, Davao Occidental, Davao Oriental, North Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, Dinagat Islands, Surigao Del Norte, Basilan, Maguindanao, and Sulu.
Under Alert Level 3, restaurants and eateries, personal care establishments, fitness studios, and non-contact sports venues, cinemas, amusement parks, and churches are allowed to accommodate fully-vaccinated individuals.
Indoor operations are limited to 30-percent venue capacity, while outdoor operations are up to 50 percent.
It expands to a 50-percent cap for indoor establishments and a 70-percent limit for outdoor establishments located in areas under Alert Level 2.
The country has been breaking its records for new Covid-19 cases, logging over 34,000 new infections on Thursday, half of which were detected in Metro Manila.
Health experts have admitted that the number could be higher since many close contacts of Covid-stricken individuals and those exhibiting symptoms are not tested due to the limited capacity of laboratories.
Since the exponential growth in cases in early January, the government has been testing 50,000 to 70,000 samples a day.
Nograles explained that the IATF did not escalate the capital region to Alert Level 4 amid a fresh wave of infections since its healthcare utilization rates have yet to hit the 71-percent mark, the threshold set for stricter lockdown classification.
Based on the latest government data, 58 percent of 1,126 intensive care units and 26 percent of 1,015 mechanical ventilators in Metro Manila have been occupied.
About 66 percent of 4,550 ward beds and 54 percent of 4,671 isolation beds allocated for Covid-19 patients have also been used in the metro.
“We are monitoring Metro Manila in terms of bed utilization. As we always say, if those figures increase to 70 percent, then that’s when it would be right to declare Alert Level 4,” Nograles said in a televised briefing.
To avoid doing such, he said the government had called on hospitals and medical facilities to improve their triaging system to reserve beds and intensive care units to those suffering from severe Covid-19 cases.
Nograles also admitted that the government is avoiding the imposition of a stricter Alert Level 4, especially in Metro Manila, to cushion the pandemic’s impact on the economy.
The business sector is among those pushing to keep the region under Alert Level 3.
GoNegosyo founder Joey Concepcion, who is also a presidential adviser for entrepreneurship, noted that stricter restrictions in the metro will further hurt businesses as they grapple with lower public spending after the holidays.
Home to 13 million people, the capital region accounts for nearly 30 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
“It’s better that Alert Level 4 didn’t push through because businesses have slowed down today,” Concepcion said in a separate briefing.
“It didn’t help that many employees were not able to go to work because they got sick with Covid-19,” he added.
Meanwhile, the health department expressed confidence that even with a surge in newly-reported cases, the majority of the sick are exhibiting mild symptoms and do not require hospitalization.
“We saw a phenomenon called decoupling in the National Capital Region. This is when a rise in cases does not translate to people who get hospitalized from severe or critical illness and death,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
The official attributed such to the region’s high vaccination rate. Some 10 million of the metro’s 13 million population have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus.
Nationwide, 54.42 million individuals have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus, while 58.51 million are partially vaccinated. Some 4.4 million have received booster shots.