MANILA, Feb 12 (Mabuhay) –The Philippine government is now preparing for Alert Level 1 and the eventual transition of the COVID-19 pandemic to endemic state, the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday.

In a media briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said Alert Level 1 would be the country’s “new normal.” It is declared when case transmission is low and decreasing, and total bed utilization and intensive care unit utilization rates are likewise low.

“Naghahanda tayo para dito sa sinasabi nating new normal. Atin pong tandaan, ang sabi natin, ang Alert Level 1, ito po ‘yung new normal natin dito sa ating bansa,” Vergeire said.

Vergeire said under the new normal, restrictions will be very specific or will only be implemented in areas with high risk of infection, while the capacity limit in establishments, whether indoor or outdoor, and in transportation will be removed.

“But what would be retained would be our self-regulation,” she said.

“We still follow the minimum public health standard, we still do masking, we still do hugas, iwas sa matataong lugar, physical distancing, and most importantly, of course, ventilation, air flow,” Vergeire added.

Meanwhile, Vergeire said should the government ease restrictions, the mandatory wearing of face masks would be the last to go.

“Because it will protect each and every one of us kung saka-sakali, and also not just for COVID-19 but also for the other respiratory infections also,” she said.

For his part, Dr. Edsel Salvana of the DOH-Technical Advisory Group said the easing of the rule regarding face mask would be done gradually.

“Siguro sa outdoors mawawala siya before sa indoors and once indoors, siguro pati ‘yung mga vulnerable population will hang on to their masks a little longer. And also for instance, ‘yung mga long trips sa airlines,” he said.

(Maybe outdoors first before the indoors, and the vulnerable population may possibly hang on to their masks a little longer. And for instance, during long trips in airlines.)

Vergeire said they are also working on making private establishments and public spaces safe to the public through the issuance of Safety Seals.

The National Capital Region is under alert level 2 until February 15.

In the same briefing, Vergeire said all regions in the Philippines are now at low to moderate risk for COVID-19 aside from Region XII.

Low risk means the average daily attack rate (ADAR) in an area is less than 1 per 100,000 population while moderate risk means it is between 1 to 7.

Endemic state

Meanwhile, though the government cannot yet declare that the COVID-19 has become an endemic in the country due to uncertain factors, Vergeire said they are nonetheless preparing for the eventuality.

“We are now preparing and transitioning if and when dumating po ang punto na ‘yan, handa na po tayo diyan. So we are now having this transition and planning towards ano ba ‘yung dapat na new normal dito sa ating bansa,” she said.

(We are now preparing and transitioning so if and when we reach this point, we are ready. So we are having this transition and planning towards what should be the new normal in the country.)

Last week, Vergeire clarified the meaning of an endemic state amid calls to shift from pandemic to endemic.

“Sa madaling salita, ang terminong endemic ay ginagamit kapag tanggap na ng buong komunidad na ang isang sakit ay magiging normal na umiiral na sa kanilang pang araw-araw na pamumuhay,” she said.

(In other words, the term endemic is used if the community accepts that a virus will become a part of our daily lives.)

“Ang endemic ay ang pagtanggap natin sa virus bilang umiiral sa ating paligid, (endemic means we have accepted that the virus will always be there),” she later added.

NCR

At present, Vergeire reiterated that the National Capital Region remains at moderate risk for COVID-19, different from the low-risk classification of independent monitoring group OCTA Research.

“Hindi pareho. I think ang firm na ‘yan ay gumagamit ng mga ibang metrics para sila ay makapag-determine [it’s not the same. I think that firm uses other metrics],” Vergeire said.

“At hindi ko rin maintindihan kung bakit nagkakaroon ng hindi pagkaka-alignment dito sa mga metrics na ito because it’s confusing people,” she added.

For her part, Dr. Anna Ong-Lim of the DOH-TAG said the Health Department has a clearer idea of the situation.

“Teams working within the DOH is that it has a fuller picture of the information. So ‘yung na-share ni Usec. kanina regarding the current status, tells us na very encouraging dahil bumababa na nga ang numbers,” she said.

“And yet we still need to be quite cautious because hindi pa naman ‘yan bumababa talaga ng tuluyan o nang husto,” she added.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III previously said the NCR remains at moderate risk with a high risk average daily attack rate of 12.22 and a negative two-week growth rate.

High risk means the ADAR is more than 7 per 100,000 population.  (MNS)

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