MANILA — Sec. Francisco Duque III told state broadcaster People’s Television the government is considering shifting to Alert Level O the COVID-19 risk classification of several parts of the country after tallying fewer than 1,000 cases daily for the last six days last March 10

In a report by The Philippine Star, Duque said areas under Alert Level 1 or the new normal are doing “so far, so good” even as most restrictions are lifted.

“Malay natin baka pwede nang mag-de-escalate to Alert Level 0. Pero ‘yang Alert Level 0 pag-uusapan pa ‘yan ng IATF,” Duque said.

Duque said experts and government advisers are currently studying the proposal and will give their recommendations to the IATF.

“Ano ba ang mga elements ng Alert Level 0? Pwede na bang magtanggal ng masks? Pwede na bang wag sumunod sa hand hygiene? ‘Yung ventilations, sufficient ba? Maraming mga tanong ang kinakailangan pang sagutin,” he said.

Duque also noted that the IATF will discuss the possible de-escalation of other parts of the country to Alert Level 1 while hoping daily cases will go down to 500.

As of March 14, the Philippines logged an average of 590 daily cases from March 7 to 13 or a total of 4,131 new infections following the recent change in case reporting by the DOH.

Retain mask mandate, put off Alert Level 0 after elections

In another report by The Philippine Star, San Lazaro Hospital’s adult infectious diseases unit head Dr. Rontgene Solante urged the government to retain the mask mandate and the observance of proper hand hygiene despite a possible shift to Alert Level O.

“At this point, (based) on the metrics na nakikita natin ngayon, especially sa pagbaba ng mga kaso at healthcare utilization, if ever we will downgrade to Alert Level 0, mukhang ready na tayo,” Solante told the People’s Television.

“We still have to maintain the wearing of face masks even in Alert Level 1. I think that’s the more important part of protection even if limitations will be lifted,” he added, noting proper hand hygiene should still be observed while 90 percent of the population should be immunized against COVID-19 to avoid infection surges.

Solante has also warned that COVID-19’s new “Deltacron” variant may cause another surge in infections in the Philippines.

In an interview with ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo on March 12, he said the variant has been recently identified in the United States and Europe and early data showed mild symptoms on vaccinated patients.

“We have to be careful in saying na OK na tayo, ano? Because, again, a possible new variant of concern in the form of a recombination of the delta and the omicron,” Solante said.

Solante also warned that ongoing political rallies and related activities for the May 2022 elections could become superspreader events.

“There’s still community transmission, the waning immunity (from vaccines) factor, all of these are all factors na there could be a possible surge and spike in cases, especially during this time of the political climate natin,” Solante said, urging the government to provide additional protection to populations vulnerable to COVID-19 by beefing up immunization and vaccine booster efforts.

Solante’s suggestion has also been echoed by the Philippine College of Physicians, with President Dr. Maricar Limpin noting mask-wearing “remains imperative as a number of Filipinos remain in the intensive care unit due to COVID-19.”

“Actually, yung Alert Level 1, kung titingnan ho natin parehas halos Alert Level 0 na rin ho yun ano, kasi lahat ho ng mga tao, nasa labas na. And kung titingnan ho natin, maski sa mga establishments, sa mga malls, andami na hong tao,” Limpin said.

“Pati rin po yung mga restaurants, nakakaabot na ho sila, hindi ho sila yung the usual na expected na 70 percent, mas madami pa ho sa 70 percent, may 80 percent siguro, 90 percent. So, siguro po, maghinay-hinay muna tayo, saka I hope ‘no, hindi ho ibig sabihin ng Alert Level 0 ay aalisin ho yung mask,” she added.

“Kasi kailangan pa rin ho nating magsuot ng mask. Yun ho ang pinakaimportante sa aming lahat, yung pananatili ng pagsusuot ng mask,” she stressed.

Presidential adviser says NCR is ready for Alert Level 0

In a report by ABS-CBN News, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Sec. Joey Concepcion said on March 14, the National Capital Region (NCR) is “ready” for the possible shift to Alert Level O as COVID-19 cases dipped despite ongoing campaign sorties.

“It will boost confidence that the Philippines has been able to achieve moving away from a pandemic,” Concepcion told a televised public briefing.

Concepcion said the NCR’s healthcare capacity was “well intact” while DOH Undersec. Maria Rosario Vergeire noted that the effect of the shift to the current Alert Level 1 will be seen 10 to 14 days later.

He is also pushing for businesses to be allowed to set their own protocols including the vaccination card requirement under Alert Level 0.

“Let the business owners decide on it. Kasi customer-centric naman sila. Kung sa tingin nila, gusto ng mga customer nila, the area will be safe, then they will still require vaccination cards, booster cards,” Concepcion said.