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Medical groups want tighter restrictions



Some medical groups are calling for the escalation of Metro Manila to a stricter Alert Level 4 until the end of the month to curb coronavirus transmission.

Dr. Jose de Grano, president of the Private Hospital Association of the Philippines Inc. (PHAPI), admitted that many health care professionals want tighter restrictions in the metro to control mobility and virus spread.

“Obviously, we, healthcare professionals, wanted a stricter alert level which is Alert Level 4,” De Grano told Daily Tribune.

Stern lockdowns could have provided short-term relief for the region’s health care system that has been strained by the pandemic, with several health workers getting infected with Covid-19, he added.

However, De Grano said private hospitals are respecting the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to keep the region under Alert Level 3 in consideration of businesses that are scrambling to recover from losses due to the ongoing health crisis.

De Grano also said that while private-owned medical facilities are prepared to allocate additional beds and facilities for Covid-19 patients amid the surge in cases, they would need additional manpower to accommodate sick people.

“Under Alert Level 4, we are mandated to increase bed allocation for Covid-19 patients. That should be easy if we have enough staff to comply with that,” he said.

Dr. Anthony Leachon, a former adviser to the national task force against Covid-19, also said he was worried that Metro Manila will remain under Alert Level 3 even if the majority of the cases in the country have been reported in the region.

Of the 37,070 new infections reported on Monday, 36 percent or 13,061 cases have been detected in Metro Manila. It was followed by Calabarzon which logged 9,048 cases and Central Luzon with 4,173.

“I’m worried about the lack of support for our health care system. We also do not have the financial resources, too,” Leachon said.

The Philippine Nurses’ Association (PNA) said it is also backing calls for the reimposition of Alert Level 4 in Metro Manila, adding the government should enforce minimum public health standards so restrictions won’t just be “on paper”.

“We support the call of our doctors that we should be under Alert Level 4. During a surge or increase in cases, we should implement strict protocols to manage the situation,” said PNA president Melbert Reyes.

“The problem is, it appears that the alert level system is only on paper. We observed that the public is very complacent in terms of mask-wearing and physical distancing,” he added.

“Regardless of the alert level that will be imposed in the metro, adherence to Covid-19 protocols is crucial in controlling the spread of Covid-19,” Reyes said.

The Filipino Nurses United (FNU), another organization of local nurses, also echoed the PNA, saying that compliance with health protocols and strengthening pandemic strategies are key in addressing the Covid-19 surge.

“Alert levels mean nothing if the public does not observe the basics such as properly worn face masks and if we don’t conduct massive testing and contact tracing,” FNU secretary-general Jocelyn Andamo said through a text message.

Malacañang has yet to comment on the sentiments of medical groups, but it had said that the newly-reported infections were not the sole basis in determining the appropriate alert level that should be imposed in an area.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles had said that Metro Manila will only escalate to Alert Level 4 if its health care utilization rate hits the 70-percent mark.

At present, the occupancy rates of intensive care units, ward beds, and isolation beds in the metro remain at 48 to 62 percent.

The government has long been trying to avert an alert level 4 scenario, especially in the capital region, which accounts for nearly 30 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Under Alert Level 3, companies in the metro are allowed to accommodate up to 30 percent capacity for indoor venues and 50 percent for outdoor venues.

These will be decreased to just 10 percent capacity for indoor venues and 30 percent capacity for outdoor venues under Alert Level 4, a disadvantageous situation for businesses in the capital region.

Alert Level 3 will remain in effect in Metro Manila until 31 January, after which the government will assess the situation to determine the next lockdown classification that will be imposed in the capital region.

With reports from Jomelle Garner