NCR likely low risk by end-Oct.

Independent researchers tracking the coronavirus pandemic said Metro Manila might be classified as a low risk for COVID-19 by the end of October as they no longer see a variant of concern that can enter the country.

STAR OF HOPE. A medical staffer hangs a small Christmas star lantern at the window of the Manila Field Hospital at the Luneta grandstand in the capital on Sunday. Norman Cruz

In an interview on ABS-CBN TeleRadyo, OCTA Research Group fellow Guido David said they also expect hospital occupancy to decline as Metro Manila now has a reproductive number of 0.6 percent and a positivity rate of 13 percent.

The Philippines is currently considered at moderate risk from the coronavirus despite a continued decline in infections, according to the Health Department.

Infections in the past two weeks fell by 21%, while the average daily attack rate was 14.73 for 100,000 people, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told an online news briefing.The reproductive number is the number of people who can be infected by a single

virus patient, while the positivity rate is the percentage of people tested that are found positive for the coronavirus.

"Within this week, there might be only a four-digit [number of new COVID-19 cases], less than 10,000 on our national average. At present, the [seven-day] average nationwide is around 11,000," David said.

He said the decline in cases might be due to herd immunity.

The Philippines logged on Sunday 12,159 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 2,666,562, as all laboratories were operational, while two laboratories were not able to submit their data on time.

The Department of Health also reported 119 new fatalities, bringing the death toll to 39,624. It also reported 27,727 new recoveries, bringing the total recoveries to 2,536,011.

The DOH also reported 90,927 active cases, of which 72.2 percent were mild, 16.2 percent were asymptomatic, 1.4 percent were critical, 3.4 percent were severe, and 6.7 percent were moderate.

Positivity rate reached 15.9 percent, still far off the international standard of less than 5 percent, as the total COVID-19 tests conducted nationwide on October 8 stood at 53,880.

Government officials said at least half of the capital region's eligible population have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

A big tarpaulin for health protocol awareness hangs at the entrance passage of Kamuning Market in Quezon City, showing that the COVID-19 is still present despite declining numbers in Metro Manila. Manny Palmero

David also pointed out Filipinos continue to abide by a mask policy, unlike other nations which no longer require masks after inoculation.

Before, he said, virus cases in Metro Manila peaked at a seven-day average of 2,000.

The Philippines last week recorded a daily virus case count of under 10,000 for two straight days.

The DOH had also observed a decline in new infections in the NCR, home to around 13.5 million people and which accounts for about a third of the country's gross domestic product.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the NCR posted a two-week decline in new cases.

If the NCR maintains the downward trend and controls the transmission of the coronavirus, residents may experience more relaxed quarantine restrictions by Christmas, Vergeire said.

Metro Manila was placed under Alert Level 4 from Sept. 16 to Oct. 15, allowing establishments like restaurants, barbershops, hair salons, and spas to operate for up to 30 percent of their outdoor capacity.

On the other hand, Vergeire said, the DOH observed an increase in COVID-19 cases in the Bicol Region, Mimaropa, and Zamboanga Peninsula.

She said Cagayan Valley, Cordillera Administrative Region and Ilocos Region also remained at high-risk case classification.

Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) called for more antigen facilities across the country, where on-site and hybrid workers can test for COVID infection, at least once a week, and increase the confidence level of all economic sectors to continue the reopening of more businesses.

“Like what we are seeing in other countries, this is where we should be headed as we reopen (the economy). We should have more antigen testing facilities and it will be up to the working citizens to have testing on their own twice a week,” he said.

He noted there has been more reopening in other countries when they asked the working class to have themselves tested once or twice a week.

Lopez said it was important to have at least antigen testing if RT-PCR tests are not available or accessible.

“In other countries, they make antigen kits available for free. We’re not yet at that stage, but we hope as we go along, we’ll have the capacity to do that, in the future,” he added.

COVID BREAD. A baker in San Andres, Manila inspects some bread shaped like the COVID-19 virus to test its appeal on Sunday — but at the end of the day, nobody wanted to buy the novelty item. Danny Pata

Free antigen testing is not yet in the DOH budget, he said.

Right now, Lopez said, the government is looking at ways to have paid isolation leaves. “This is where the government budget is going into,” he said.

“What’s happening right now is that infected workers were trying to hide their conditions to be able to continue working. And this contributes to the surge. If they are assured of paid isolation leaves, we will have a healthier working force that will continue the gains of sectors that have reopened. Economic recovery will be expedited and going back to pre-pandemic levels will be easier,” Lopez said.

He added that the government will have to discuss and work out an arrangement with the private sector, should they agree to the proposal.

Also on Sunday, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said her agency is looking to cut the cost of RT-PCR tests for domestic tourists to make travel more affordable to everyone.

The government has gradually eased travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

National Task Force against Covid-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said Sunday the country has sufficient storage capacity for the vaccines that are arriving.

Galvez made this remark as he and other officials welcomed the latest delivery of 1,363,300 doses of the US-made Moderna vaccine at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 in Parañaque City Saturday afternoon.

“Yes, we have an adequate storage capacity for our vaccines, we conducted an inventory of our storage freezers with negative 70 and 80 capacity, and we found out that we can safely store between 28 [million] and 30 million vaccines [requiring low handling temperatures])," he said in an interview with reporters.

Galvez also said the DOH is now coordinating with regions, provinces, and municipalities to hasten their vaccination programs to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccines are not wasted.

Galvez said of the new shipment of Moderna vaccines, 885,700 were procured by the government while 477,600 doses were bought by the private sector represented by port operator International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) through a trilateral agreement.

MORE DOSES. Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. and Heather Variava, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy (first and second from left) welcome the arrival of 918,450 doses of Pfizer vaccines donated by the US government through COVAX at the NAIA Terminal 3 in Pasay City on Sunday. Avito Dalan

"This is a remarkable development in the vaccine supply in the country. As we call it, this is now our harvest time. For the past few days, the country has been receiving 1.5 million doses of vaccine on a daily average," Galvez, who is also the vaccine czar, said.

He said 14.25 million doses of vaccine were delivered from Oct. 1 to 9, a massive improvement compared to the situation months ago when the country had to rely on donations from other countries and organizations to supply life-saving jabs to the people.

US Embassy Deputy Counselor for Economic Affairs Zeenat Syed said the American government was elated that the vaccines they have delivered would help millions of Filipinos be protected against the dreaded illness.

"The United States is very proud that US vaccines are supporting the government's vaccination effort and that they are helping vaccinate millions of Philippine citizens against COVID-19," she said.

With the vaccine supply stabilizing, Galvez hopes that more people will let themselves be vaccinated for the country to hit its target of fully vaccinating 50 percent of the 77 million eligible population by year end, and safely reopen the economy.

The Philippines has so far received 85,575,600 doses of vaccines since deliveries started in February this year.

Of the delivered vaccines, 48,925,516 doses were administered nationwide as of Thursday.

More than 26 million people have received their first dose while 22.8 million have been fully vaccinated.

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