Staying at Alert Level 3: Consensus or compromise?

Published January 13, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin

E CARTOON JAN 13, 2022

There has been an ongoing debate whether the National Capital Region (NCR) and other cities affected by the massive rise of new COVID cases should be placed under Alert Level 4. Some health experts have called on the IATF to raise the alarm level, citing increasing numbers of sick medical frontliners because of the virus. They say that it is only a matter of time before we experience a full-blown crisis.

On the other side are the economic managers and local government leaders who have said that the Alert Level 3 status is currently enough. There seemed to be a consensus regarding this as this was also supported by groups from the private sector, such as Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, who commented that NCR’s alert status is “sufficient for now.”

Early this week, the Metro Manila Council (MMC), which is composed of the 17 mayors of NCR, together with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), announced that the Alert Level 3 status shall be retained. MMDA chairman Benjamin Abalos Jr. said that the situation is under control as “restrictions are in place and there was no significant rise in the healthcare utilization rate (HCUR)” despite the record-breaking daily numbers of new COVID cases.

“The mayors see no need to escalate to Alert Level 4 as the majority of the vaccinated citizens who are infected by the virus are asymptomatic cases, which can be treated at home,” Abalos said. “What we see in the majority of the fatalities and those experiencing severe symptoms are among the unvaccinated.”

Data released by the Department of Health (DOH) supported Abalos’ claims that infections among the vaccinated presented mild symptoms, with some of them being asymptomatic. Though there was a “slight” increase in the HCUR in NCR, it does not merit an elevation in the alert level.

Abalos assured citizens that they are consistently monitoring relevant figures and data to provide the NCR mayors with a clear picture on the ground, including metrics in terms of our hospitals’ capacity and bed space. “We assure that the NCR mayors are ready in case the metrics show the need to escalate Metro Manila to Alert Level 4,” Abalos said.

The continuation of the alert level in NCR doesn’t mean that it is “business as usual.” Two disconcerting milestones were achieved this week – the country breaking the three-million mark of COVID cases ever since the start of the pandemic, and marking the highest single-day tally of new COVID cases at 33,169. God knows if this record would stay or would be smashed in the coming days. Again, this is also a point of contention. Health experts project a further rise in the number of cases, which may peak to 40,000 to 50,000 daily, while others have said that this should not be a source of panic as we now have to learn “how to live” with the virus.

Considering the present scenario, placing NCR under Alert Level 4, or worse, even at 5, would surely have a big impact on businesses and enterprises. These alerts, however, may not matter from an individual perspective. Each one of us now has to take care of our health and the wellbeing of our family. There is no way to emerge from this pandemic safely but for us to follow strict health protocols, to isolate if we are exposed with the virus, or to get tested and treated. The alert levels wouldn’t matter to us if we continue to be irresponsible with our lives and recklessly gamble with our future.