Amid a continuing uptrend in COVID-19 infections, the government has declared Alert Level 3 in Metro Manila for the first half of January 2022. The number of cases in the capital region, Calabarzon and Central Luzon has been increasing rapidly during the past two weeks. The positivity rate has breached the 10 percent mark, or twice the World Health Organization’s standard of less than five percent. These are seen as possible indicators that the Omicron variant may have become the leading source of fast-spreading infections.
To stem the tide of community transmission, the enforcement of Alert Level 3 prohibits the following activities: 1) face to face classes for basic education; 2) contact sports, except those conducted under a bubble-type setup; 3) funfairs or perya, kiddie rides and kid amusement activities in playgrounds and playrooms; 4) venues with live voice or wind-instrument performers and audiences such as in karaoke bars, clubs, concert halls, and theaters; 5) casinos, horse racing, cockfighting and operation of cockpits, lottery and betting shops, and other gaming establishments; and 6) gatherings in residences with individuals not belonging to the same household.
While intrazonal and interzonal travel remain allowed under Alert Level 3, the permitted activities and businesses are allowed at lower levels: 30 percent indoor capacity for the fully vaccinated and 50 percent outdoor capacity for the unvaccinated.
The government is also formulating stricter measures geared at limiting the movements of unvaccinated individuals.
Highlighting the apparent lapse in enforcement was the high-profile breach of quarantine protocols in a Makati hotel by a balikbayan that led to the contamination of several individuals.
Despite the fact that the critical care facilities such as ICU beds are still at a low level of utilization, the government has apparently opted to preempt further escalation. Local government units have also been allowed to enforce granular lockdowns when warranted in defined areas.
Seen from a broader perspective, the Philippines has performed relatively well compared to other countries in Asia where, as reported by Reuters, the latest seven-day average of new infections has been steadily rising: 15,770 in Vietnam; 9,454 in India; and 4,947 in South Korea. Record levels of infection are being registered in the United States, United Kingdom, France and Australia due to the spread of the Omicron variant.
These developments underline the urgency of further speeding up the pace of vaccination in the country. At least seven million more citizens need to be fully vaccinated to attain the target of 54 million that has been set as the benchmark for adequate community protection.
During the past 21 months, the collective experience in containing COVID-19 would have educated the citizenry that vigilance and compliance with health and safety protocols are truly the most effective deterrents.
The latest transition to Alert Level 3 would be a good barometer of the country’s capacity to sustain the capability to safely reopen the economy and expand the scope of social interaction in a healthy manner.