MANILA — Department of Health (DOH) Undersec. Maria Rosario Vergeire, during a Palace briefing on April 5, said the healthcare utilization rate should decrease to at least 60 percent before the easing of restrictions in the NCR Plus bubble, which is now at an extended, reimposed enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

“We need to see the utilization down to at least 60 percent before we can say that we are at that safe level,” Vergeire said.

“The health system should be able to manage, breathe, and have this decongestion before we can say that we can lift the restrictions,” she added, noting that the NCR of the pandemic epicenter has an overall healthcare utilization rate of 78 percent to 80 percent with most hospital beds and mechanical ventilators in use while some cities reached 100 percent occupancy of intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

Vergeire noted that authorities will also conduct weekly assessments of the COVID-19 situation in the NCR Plus ECQ bubble.

“Our experts have recommended that the shift (of) this community quarantine classification should be gradual. It should not jump from ECQ and then to GCQ (general community quarantine),” she said, with the DOH explaining that the effects of the reimposed ECQ will not be evident until several days after it is lifted due to the incubation period of COVID-19.

1-week ECQ extension in NCR Plus bubble may not be enough to curb COVID-19 surge

In a report by GMA News, Vergeire in her interview with Unang Hirit said the current situation in the NCR Plus ECQ bubble will be assessed in a weekly basis as they could not say yet if the one-week extension will be enough to address the COVID-19 surge.

Vergeire explained that in Metro Manila alone, the number of new COVID-19 cases is averaging more than 6,695 daily.

“We can see that the average number of cases per day has been increasing for these past weeks,” she said, noting that the positivity rate has been increasing as well.

Vergeire cited low-testing capability and faster transmission of the virus as factors in the positivity rate hike, noting the DOH is looking for “appropriate facilities” where mild and asymptomatic patients could be admitted to decongest hospitals.

NCR LGUs to set up triage system for COVID-19 cases

In another report by GMA News, the DOH during a briefing said that local government units (LGUs) in NCR will start operating their own triage system for COVID-19 cases this week in a bid to decongest crowded emergency rooms.

Under the system, Vergeire explained that local health workers will assess whether patients need to be admitted to a hospital or a quarantine facility.

“This is a layer that we are trying to include into the structure. We will cut the structure where, from the home or LGU, (patients go) straight to the hospital,” she said.

The system will also link triage areas of local governments to ambulances and the One Hospital Command, a referral system for healthcare providers and medical transportation.

The DOH is also urging LGUs to set-up their own COVID-19 telemedicine hotline as the One Hospital Command is being swamped with up to 400 calls daily, as well as the establishment of a triage system across the country.

Vergeire said that the DOH has also identified areas where 257 additional isolation beds can be set up after approving last month the use of some schools in Metro Manila as isolation facilities.

As of April 5, the Philippines has 803,398 total COVID-19 cases after logging 8,355 new infections.