With new COVID cases dropping, is it high time for Alert Level 1?

Published February 16, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin

E CARTOON FEB 16, 2022

The government announced that in the coming 15 days until the end of February, majority of the cities and provinces, including the National Capital Region (NCR), will still be under Alert Level 2. This result came from the recommendation of health experts, since the Department of Health revealed “low risk” of new COVID-19 infections, far from what was experienced during the start of the year when the Omicron variant spread like wildfire.

The Alert Level 2 classification is a welcome news for the economy, which is gradually recovering from the long drought caused by the pandemic. The political season is also helping jumpstart the economy, with spending on election paraphernalia and advertisements.

Moving forward, past this month, is it time for an Alert Level 1? The answers today still vary. Health experts still call for more caution and studies (they say, the virus may still mutate to other variants), while industry groups and organizations convey a more optimistic tone, saying that the country should loosen its tight grip on business restrictions as everyone “has to learn to live with the virus.”

In a statement this week, OCTA Research fellow Dr. Guido David supported the businesses’ side, noting that indicators are pointing to an Alert Level 1 by March. “We project that the NCR would be at, or very close to, very low risk by March, using metrics based on COVID Act Now,” he said, referring to the independent data-tracking non-profit organization.

“Specifically, we are projecting ADAR (average daily attack rate) to decrease below one, and positivity rate to decrease to below three percent by then,” he added. “At these levels, the conditions are favorable for a de-escalation to Alert Level 1 by March 2022.”

Speaking on behalf of businesses, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion lauded government’s efforts to bring down COVID transmission cases, but he also added that moving to Alert Level 1 would have a “big effect on how we recover.”

“Moving to the lower alert level is important if our country is to continue the gains we realized in the fourth quarter,” Concepcion said. The Philippines, he noted, registered a better-than-expected 7.7 GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2021, which many are attributing to the easing of restrictions during the holiday season.

OCTA Research’s most recent projections for NCR point to only 200 new cases by end-February, and 140 new cases by March. Healthcare utilization rate (HCUR), meanwhile, continues its downward trend and was last recorded at 29 percent.

OCTA Research head Prof. Ranjit Rye had also said that a lower Alert Level 1 status is an opportunity for the country to sustain its fourth quarter growth. “Now is the time (to open up further), because the science is proving that cases are going down.”

With all these reports coming in, it is not a surprise therefore that a survey released recently to the media revealed that more than 50 percent of Filipinos are anticipating that the pandemic would end this year. This, Concepcion noted, is possible as he is “not discounting the fact that alert levels may eventually be lifted.”

“A state of public health emergency may no longer be necessary given there are currently no variants of concern, the country has achieved a higher vaccination rate, and healthcare utilization rates remain low,” he said.
So, are we soon expecting Alert Level 1 by March, or better yet, a more “open” Philippines by the Lenten season in April? We hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and of course, still continue to observe minimum health protocols and pray for better days ahead.