WHO official says it’s not yet time to relax COVID-19 restrictions in Metro Manila

Published September 14, 2021, 1:46 PM

by Analou de Vera

World Health Organization Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe (PCOO / MANILA BULLETIN)

An official of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it is not yet the right time to ease the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in Metro Manila even if more than half of its target population were already vaccinated.

“We have significant population coverage within NCR (National Capital Region). I believe it’s about 60 percent now. But this is not adequate at this point to relax our quarantine positions,” said WHO Country Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe during a public press briefing on Tuesday, Sept. 14.

On Monday, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chief Benhur Abalos reported that about 5.93 million residents or 60.5 percent of the 9.8 million eligible population in Metro Manila have already received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Abeyasinghe also emphasized that the easing of restrictions is not recommended as there is a growing concern over the highly transmissible Delta coronavirus variant.

“You may recraft the terminology but basically what we are advising is make sure that those restrictions are followed, that we don’t relax too much because we are not in a position where we can relax and experience further worsening of this transmission level because our health systems are just holding up,” said Abeyasinghe.

“If there is a further increase in the current transmission level, it could lead to an overwhelming of the hospital systems. That’s why we need to be very careful in recalibrating how we respond to the current situation,” he added.

The Philippine government is set to implement granular lockdowns with alert levels in Metro Manila starting Sept. 16.

During the same public press briefing, Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that Metro Manila would be under Alert Level 4 during the first week of the pilot implementation of the COVID-19 Alert Level System.

She explained that Metro Manila is currently classified as high-risk for COVID-19 while intensive care utilization is also under high risk classification.

“The ADAR (average daily attack rate) increased from 30.44 in the previous weeks to 39.09 per 100,000 population in the recent week. Additionally, NCR has a high-risk intensive care utilization rate at 77.5 percent while bed utilization is near high-risk classification at 69.5 percent,” she said.

Clear messaging

The WHO official said that sending a “clear” message to the public about the COVID-19 situation and the implementation of restrictions is critical in curbing the transmission.

“We need to be very careful that in our messaging, we don’t send the wrong signals to the population,” said Abeyasinghe.

Abeyasinghe said “how those levels of restrictions are implemented—-whether they are called quarantine classifications, whether they are called granular lockdowns does not fundamentally matter.”

“The issue is that the people and other stakeholders need to realize that there is continuing transmission, that there is an important element that we need to reduce movement, we need to ensure compliance with the restrictions because if they were relaxed further, it is likely that with such a transmissible variant here—we will see more cases,” he said.

“So, what it is called is immaterial. As long as the message is clear to the public that we need to follow the restrictions so that we reduce the transmission. This is what is important at this point in time,” he added.