MANILA — Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Sec. Eduardo Año said he rejected presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion’s proposal requiring COVID-19 booster cards in high-vaccination rates areas in line with the government’s priority to administer more vaccines to the population in a radio interview.

“Sa ngayon hindi pa yan napapanahon,” Año said told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.

“Gusto natin fully vaccinated,” he added, noting at least 34 million Filipinos remain unvaccinated.

Año said that only 2.6 million people in Metro Manila have received booster shots.

“If we implement a no booster, no entry policy, our economy will suffer because only a few will be allowed in establishments,” he said.

In an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel on February 5, Concepcion acknowledged the opposition to his proposal but said it could be enforced in highly-vaccinated areas “where the government would want to maintain protection against COVID-19.”

“I understand that some areas may be having logistical problems and it is quite unfair to require it of people who have no access to boosters yet,” he said.

Concepcion also suggested the National Capital Region (NCR) first roll out the booster card requirement, with other local government units (LGUs) following suit as their populations get vaccinated.

“The booster card requirement makes sense in the NCR because they received their primary doses ahead of the rest of the Philippines. However, they are also at higher risk from waning immunity and must be encouraged to get their booster shots right away,” he said.

“It will be up to the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) to give guidance as to how the booster card requirement can be implemented,” he added.

Concepcion also noted that the booster card requirement is being implemented in other countries, including the US.

In a report by ABS-CBN News, infectious disease expert and Department of Health (DOH) technical advisory group member Dr. Edsel Salvaña maintained that it will be “difficult to require booster cards in Metro Manila.”

“Masyadong maraming tao ang hindi pa natin nabu-boost, and of course, we want to make sure the focus remains on the people na hindi pa nababakunahan,” Salvaña said.

According to government data, as of February 1, 7.5 million people received their booster dose including some 2.1 million jabs administered in NCR.

Removal of COVID-19 alert system opposed

In another report by ONE News, experts also opposed calls to junk the alert level system for COVID-19.

“The alert level system seems to have been tied to the restrictions… lockdowns. But the main reason that we have the system is because of the monitoring. What we are suggesting is that monitoring should not be removed so that the surveillance of the LGUs is still there,” University of the Philippines pandemic response team member and Dean of the UP Los Baños Graduate School Jomar Rabajante said.

Rabajante said a system should be in place to monitor and respond to scenarios where COVID-19 is considered a regular illness and during waves of new cases.

In the same interview with The Chiefs on ONE News, infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante emphasized the importance of “having a system that will remind the public of measures they have to take in response to COVID-19.”

During a Laging Handa public briefing on February 3, Salvaña also rejected calls for the lifting of the alert level system and other COVID-19 restrictions.

“As of now, I think it’s not timely to remove the alert level system because we must first see if the decline in cases would continue and of course, we know that there are provinces that still have low levels of vaccination,” Salvaña said, noting the system should be enforced so measures are in place if ever COVID cases soar again due to the emergence of a new variant.

Concepcion, on the other hand, wanted the alert level system to be treated like storm warning signals.

“I believe we can rationalize the alert level system and take a cue from how our country manages typhoon warnings. We don’t have public storm signal warnings every day because we’ve learned that a light shower or thunderstorm is not enough to shut down schools or tell people to stay home,” Concepcion said, noting alert levels can be used in response to a threat.

“When the threat is there, then we call the alert levels. What we need is to align the basic protocols that do or do not warrant the placing of alert levels,” he added.

As of February 7, the Philippines had 3,616,387 total COVID-19 cases after the DOH reported 6,835 new infections.

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