MANILA — Department of Health (DOH) Sec. Francisco Duque III said areas currently under general community quarantine (GCQ) can’t shift yet to the more relaxed modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) as the number of cases in other areas is on the rise.
“We’ll see because the final recommendation will be discussed before making a recommendation to the President,” Duque said in a radio interview.
The National Capital Region (NCR) Plus bubble including the nearby provinces of Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite and Rizal were under GCQ with restrictions from May 15 to 31.
“These areas are contributing to our cases now. In NCR, the cases are declining although the case rates or what we call the daily attack rate is still high. We are not out of the woods yet,” Duque said, citing Iloilo City, Puerto Princesa in Palawan, Calabarzon and some areas in the Visayas and Mindanao.
In a report by The Philippine Star, DOH chief epidemiologist Alethea de Guzman confirmed that all regions in the Visayas logged an upward trend in COVID-19 cases, with Western Visayas having the highest and fastest growth in infections.
On May 31, President Rodrigo Duterte in a taped speech retained NCR Plus under ‘GCQ with restrictions’ until June 15.
In a report by ABS-CBN News, a statement from presidential spokesman Harry Roque stated that the GCQ with restriction classification for the NCR Plus bubble will be in place “starting June 1 until June 15, 2021” while Duterte’s slideshow states June 30.
Roque said in a text message, “No 30th.”
An official of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, however, pointed out that there was an asterisk beside the NCR Plus quarantine level in the slideshow, which supposedly meant that the GCQ with restrictions is only until the 15th.
In a later text message, Roque clarified that the classification will remain until “June 15.”
NO VACCINE PRIORITY FOR NCR PLUS
The DOH on May 24 rejected OCTA Research group’s proposal to allocate 90 percent of COVID-19 vaccines to NCR.
“We think this is not possible,” DOH Undersec. Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a press briefing, noting they can’t agree with the proposal because there are other regions that need to be given COVID-19 vaccines.
“Cases in these areas are already declining. We don’t think it is appropriate to allocate 90 percent of supplies to NCR Plus,” she added, citing the government’s “focused intervention” in NCR Plus where the bulk of COVID-19 cases have been reported.
Vergeire also pointed out that the country’s vaccine supply is not yet stable, meaning distribution needs to be rationalized.
In a report by ONE News according to The Philippine Star, OCTA proposed two possible models that the government may adopt as part of its nationwide COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the 90-10 allocation and the risk-based classification in distributing vaccines.
“The goal… is to vaccinate 45 to 50 percent of the population in high-risk areas, 30 to 40 percent of the population in moderate high-risk areas and 20 to 30 percent of the population in moderate risk areas,” according to a report by OCTA fellows Guido David, Ma. Patricia Agbulos and Ranjit Rye stated.
“The strategy is based on the risk assessment of a local government unit (LGU) for the entire 2021 but may be adjusted according to urgency and the current risk assessment of an LGU,” it added.
The risk-based classification in distributing vaccines model is different from the one presented by OCTA fellow and molecular biologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, who proposed last week the allocation of 90 percent of vaccines to NCR.
Austriaco’s recommendation, based on a study that compared five different scenarios of vaccine distribution, was criticized by several local officials outside Metro Manila.
“Key insight from the two models is that with limited vaccines it would be strategic to prioritize allocation of vaccines in the NCR to achieve at least containment or better herd immunity in the region,” Rye said.
“If more vaccines will be available, we could roll out to the identified hotspots. Both models will show that recalibrating the vaccine strategy would not only contain the pandemic in the virus epicenters but would also hasten the reopening of the economy of the NCR to the benefit of the whole country,” he added.
DISCERNING FACE MASK PROTOCOL
Citing the current vaccination rate at a little over one million people fully inoculated against COVID-19, the DOH said it is studying a recommendation to allow those individuals to stop wearing face masks but not the easing of mask-wearing.
“Kung sa US sila ay nagkaroon na ng polisiya na pwede nang hindi mag-mask pag nasa labas, tayo po rito hindi pa rin ‘yan ma-consider kasi ‘yung rate ng vaccination natin di naman pareho sa Estados Unidos,” Vergeire said in a briefing.
According to Our World in Data, at least 132 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or 40.2 percent of the US population.
In a report by The Philippine Star, Vergeire said medical experts and government’s task force on pandemic response, the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, will assess the recommendation to allow vaccinated individuals to go mask-free.
As of May 25, the Philippines has administered at least 5.180 million COVID-19 vaccine doses while the government aims to vaccinate at least 58 million of the country’s 108 million population to achieve herd immunity.
Active cases of COVID-19 in the country, on the other hand, hit 54,290 as of May 31 while deaths reached 20,860.