We Should Prepare for the Return of Level 2
Covid-19 cases seem to have plateaued late last week after surging rapidly in the first two weeks of January. The statistical downtrend and the big number of daily recoveries we are seeing are clear signs that we may be over the hump in this latest pandemic wave.
Both the Department of Health and independent OCTA Research have noticed the declining trend. The weekly growth rate of Covid-19 cases in Metro Manila is down 10 percent although the daily Covid cases in the rest of the Philippines are still rising, albeit at a slower rate.
Barring any unforeseen scenarios, the optimist in me sees that the worst is over. The Omicron strain is still here but we have checked its surge. More importantly, we did not panic and the government-held its rein. The state also did not resort to a widespread lockdown of the economy, preferring to implement the more effective granular or selective lockdowns.
The downward trend of cases in the Philippines mirrors the current developments in the United States and some parts of Europe, where the Omicron first struck hard. These developed nations, especially the UK, are slowly reopening their economy after a relatively low hospitalization rate.
The Omicron variant, despite being more infectious than the Delta strain, has not overwhelmed our hospitals and health-care workers. Just 50 percent of the nation’s ICU beds were occupied while 51 percent of isolation beds were in use as of last week. About 54 percent of ward beds were occupied while 24 percent of ventilators were in use. In Metro Manila, 51 percent of ICU beds, 47 percent of isolation beds, 58 percent of ward beds and 29 percent of ventilators were in use.
Authorities use these hospitalization data as their guide in deciding the level of Covid-19 restrictions in a particular region. With the leveling of Covid-19 cases and a clear drop in the growth rate in infections, it may be prudent now to prepare for a return to Alert Level 2, at least in Metro Manila. Most of the infected people are isolating themselves at home and are suffering mildly from the Omicron variant—presumably because over a majority of the people in the capital region have been vaccinated.
We can possibly adopt a hybrid Level 2 with some Level 3 restrictions retained. Authorities may keep some of the Level 3 restrictions under Level 2, especially in establishments where social distancing is more difficult to avoid. They may, in the meantime, restrict some social events under Level 2 until Omicron blows away.
The return to Level 2 with some Level 3 restrictions hopefully will give confidence to our consumers. More importantly, the less restrictive measures will enable many of our workers in fast-food restaurants, bars, hotels and other commercial establishments to regain their full job.
I have heard of stories from restaurant crew agreeing to a skeleton work force in their dining establishments. They have been asked to report only three times a week because of low sales. The arrangement, while reasonable, is a serious blow to our workers because of the no-work, no-pay labor policy.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the labor sector following the early lockdown episodes that shut down the economy before. Thus, we should be more lenient with our workers, who are the backbone of our economy. We should also be sensitive to their plight.
The no vaccine-no ride policy on public transportation, while commendable in efforts to inoculate as many Filipinos as possible, must be handled with care. I have heard from radio reports that authorities had prevented those with only one vaccination jab from using the public transportation. This should not be the case. Many Filipinos are still not fully vaccinated, especially from towns and municipalities outside of Metro Manila. But I am pleased that the Department of Transportation clarified the policy. It now allows workers, whether they are vaccinated or not, to use public transportation because their work or job is essential to the economy.
The country’s vaccination rate, meanwhile, must proceed as fast as possible to keep the Philippines safe from Covid-19. I personally commend local government units for being pro-active in the vaccination rollout. We should find ways to make the vaccines accessible to the unvaccinated. The battle against Covid-19 is a concerted effort. We are all in this together.