Amid a continuing surge in COVID-19 infections attributed largely to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, the government has decided to retain Metro Manila’s Alert Level 3 status — as in 81 other cities and provinces where the pandemic continues to spread rapidly.
Despite record-breaking numbers of new cases, the pandemic task force maintained the same alert level, citing the fact that the critical threshold — ICU and isolation bed utilization rate of 70 percent — has not been reached. According to latest reports, this is currently at 55 percent and 52 percent, respectively.
During the Delta-driven surge in July to October last year, enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the strictest regime, was imposed before this was modified into the current classification system in which Alert Level 5 is the most stringent.
As the alert level system determines the scope of permitted community mobility — or the extent to which businesses could operate — a new phenomenon has been observed by Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Benjamin Abalos, Jr. He noted: “Hindi ka pa man nagtataas, ang ating mga kababayan ay nagkakaroon na ng self-discipline na sila na mismo nagse-self-regulate sa sarili nila (People are already learning to self-regulate and observe discipline although we have not yet upgraded the alert level)”.
Another vital factor is that 98.3 percent of new infections are mild or asymptomatic, requiring those infected to simply observe home quarantine for up to 10 days, which was even modified to just seven days.
It is concerning, however, that a good number of those that are newly infected are also health workers. This development has prompted the government to field medical and health personnel from the armed forces, police, coast guard and security organizations to assist the frontliners in hospitals, clinics and laboratories.
OCTA Research group has noted that as of Jan. 15, the rate of increase in new COVID infections in Metro Manila has dropped from five percent to three percent. While this is a good sign, it does not indicate that the surge has reached its peak; only when this turns negative could it be inferred that infections are already declining.
That nine out of every 10 residents in Metro Manila have been vaccinated is another key mitigating factor. Vaccination has apparently prevented severe or critical cases requiring hospitalization. Relatedly, the vaccination of children from five to 11 years old is being prepared to start in early February. Unvaccinated children are vulnerable to infection and would serve as transmitters of the virus in their households — as it has been noted in the recent surge.
All local government units in Metro Manila have passed ordinances designed to discourage unvaccinated persons from leaving home except for health emergency or essential errands. Restrictions imposed on their use of public transportation — “no vax, no ride” — took effect on Jan. 17.
Lessons learned from the Metro Manila surge — particularly the importance of self-discipline in limiting mobility and adherence to home quarantine protocols — will enable the citizenry to forge ahead with optimism.