NCR alert level classification must be data-based, transparent — Concepcion

Published October 2, 2021, 3:33 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

Changes in the alert level classifications of the National Capital Region (NCR) must be transparent and based on numbers.

(Ali Vicoy/ File photo/ MANILA BULLETIN)

Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion and Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, OP, a molecular biologist, jointly made this call Saturday, Oct. 2 as the country entered the crucial fourth and final quarter of 2021.

The two recommended linking the number of active coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, vaccination data, and the hospitalization status of positive cases to the Alert Level System (ALS) classification in the NCR.

“There has to be a basis of declaring the alert levels in NCR, something that is quantifiable and easy to understand by the public,” Concepcion stressed.

Austriaco noted, “As the Delta surge decelerates in Metro Manila, we need to be able to establish milestones that will allow us to re-open our society in a safe manner.”

According to Concepcion, there a correlation between the number of active cases and hospitalization. “[This] is a key indicator in how well countries are handling the COVID-19 pandemic. We should try to do the same here.”

The recommendation intends to help the private sector and the general public understand how the government arrives at the classification levels, which impact the operation of businesses.

In his analysis of the critical threshold level of active cases in the NCR, Austriaco found that at the peak of the Delta surge in mid-September when there were 36,427 active cases reported by the DOH, 7,400 total beds, including 1,115 intensive care unit (ICU) beds, were occupied.

“This suggests that these numbers represent the maximum staffed bed capacity for Metro Manila. In order to protect our health care system, we have to establish a re-opening strategy that ensures that we do exceed this bed capacity in the NCR,” Austriaco explained.

Since the analysis revealed that about 20 percent of active cases were hospitalized in the NCR during the Delta surge, Austriaco arrived at the following thresholds: critical risk (30,000 active cases, which would lead to about 80 percent hospital capacity in the NCR; high risk (25,500 active cases, which would lead to 70 percent hospital capacity); medium risk (18,500 active cases, which would lead to 50 percent hospital capacity); and low risk (14,500 active cases, which would lead to 40 percent hospital capacity).

These numbers only apply for the decelerating or downward trend of the Delta surge, he said.

Concepcion said that data-based decisions in determining which alert level classifications to use will not only promote transparency, but also will guide the private sector in their decision-making as the economy reopens. This comes at a crucial time with the start of the fourth quarter, when consumer spending is expected to increase.

Concepcion had earlier called for the lowering of alert levels in the NCR in the fourth quarter of 2021. “Shifting to alert level 3 [from 4] would help businesses recoup part of their losses due to the lockdowns. Downgrading to Alert Level 3 will allow more economic activity.”

Based on his analysis, Austriaco recommended that the NCR remain under Alert Level 4 until active cases drop below 25,500; level 3 would be maintained until active cases dropped below 18,500; level 2 would remain while active cases are between 18,500 and 14,500; and level 1 would be implemented once active cases in the NCR dropped below the threshold of 14,500 active cases.

As another option, he also suggested increasing risk tolerance for hospitalization when determining alert levels, especially since the percentage of the NCR that is fully vaccinated is expected to exceed 50 percent of the total population in the near future.

In this scenario, the NCR would move to alert level 3 when active cases are between 30,000 and 25,500. Level 2 would be maintained while active cases are between 25,500 and 18,500; while level 1 would be implemented once active cases dropped below 18,500.

“We also need to look into the breakdown of cases in each area. It may look a lot but for the past week, NCR is reporting around 3,000 cases only, the more reason to reconsider the increased capacity of businesses. We have a high vaccination rate here too,” Concepcion added.

A couple of OCTA Research fellows supported Austriaco’s call of using the numbers as basis for determining the alert levels.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) maintained an alert level 4 in Metro Manila until October 15, but allowed the operation of gyms at 20 percent capacity and a 10 percent higher capacity for restaurants, barbershops, and other personal care services. But such services are only meant for fully vaccinated individuals.

Concepcion has been pushing for the implementation of the Bakuna Bubble, where vaccinated individuals are incentivized with more mobility and less restrictions as a way to jumpstart the economy. Various sectors, including 1,000 business owners and franchisees and various sectors such as aviation, tourism and transportation, have backed Concepcion’s proposal.