Continuing alert, ramped-up vaccination are twin keys to community protection


The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has decided to extend the pilot implementation of the new Alert Levels System for COVID-19 response in the National Capital Region (NCR) while relaxing some of the Level 4 restrictions that were previously in place.

Operational capacity of indoor services such as dine-in, in-person religious services, and personal care has been doubled from 10 to 20 percent for fully vaccinated persons. Operational capacity for these services, if performed outdoors, remains at 30 percent. Fitness studios and gyms are now allowed to reopen up to 20 percent capacity for fully vaccinated patrons on condition that gym workers are also fully vaccinated.

Recall that the basis for the NCR’s Alert Level 4 status --- the second highest alert level --- was its being a high-risk area, with high and increasing case counts and increasing utilization rates for intensive care hospital beds. According to the Department of Health’s daily report on October 1, ICU bed utilization in the NCR remained high at 75 percent compared to 73 percent nationwide.

The full rollout of the Alert Levels System is being deferred until government has fully evaluated its pilot implementation. Monitoring systems at the LGU level must first be put in place. The DOH has urged the LGUs in the NCR to intensify their efforts at actively detecting new COVID-19 cases and increase risk-based testing using RT-PCR to stem the tide of transmission. They have also been authorized to enforce granular lockdowns from the barangay down to the household levels.

Awareness building goes on in order to heighten public consciousness on the three critical C’s: crowded places, closed-contact settings, and closed spaces with poor ventilation. Already, people are calling out --- through social media posts with actual photos --- critical incidents where the apparent risks of contamination have been ignored in full public view. Ironically, these involved civic activities like long queues for voter registration, or crowding in vaccination areas. Scenes of crowds demonstrating their support to their favored bets were recorded on the first day of filing of certificates of candidacy for the 2022 elections.

Ramped-up vaccination remains at the top of government’s COVID response agenda. As of September 29, DOH reports that 24,044,260 or 21.9 percent of Filipinos have been fully vaccinated; a total of 25,195,827 or 23 percent have received one dose. Despite the uptrend, the DOH acknowledges that in the provinces, particularly in far-flung areas, thousands of Filipinos remain unvaccinated. Critical, too, is the need to inoculate senior citizens and persons with underlying health conditions and comorbidities.

Ever-higher vaccination rates would facilitate the easing of restrictions in mobility, enable greater access to commercial malls, and contribute considerably to safe reopening of more workplaces and business establishments. The tourism and hospitality sector is also eyeing the feasibility of setting up “vaccine bubble” areas --- and this, too, is largely dependent on attainment of full vaccination that enhances community protection.

With all key sectors working in unison to achieve clear objectives, the possibility of a healthier, happier holiday season looms larger in the horizon.