LOCAL government units, especially those in Metro Manila, have been placed on “high alert” and directed to isolate sick residents, whether they are suspected COVID-19 cases, or those whose test results have yet to be confirmed.
“What we’re doing now is placing all LGUs, especially those in Metro Manila, on high alert.
They should be quick to do COVID testing and to isolate even suspected cases. We are already calling on the LGUs to quarantine even the suspected cases, even while the results of the RT-PCR tests are still pending, just to be on the safe side,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in an interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel.
Nograles, who is the concurrent co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), said that while regional or provincial quarantine classifications would still be announced by the government every end of the month, granular or localized lockdowns are enough for now to address the rising number of cases, especially in the National Capital Region.
He expressed confidence on the capability of LGU officials to decide and come out with sound decisions on when to impose lockdowns.
Aside from community lockdowns, Nograles said LGUs should also take the lead in convincing their constituents not just to comply with existing health protocols but to make sure that they properly follow regulations like wearing making sure that their face masks cover their mouths and noses and not their chins, using the face shields to cover their faces and not using them as headbands, washing hands for 20 seconds, observing physical distancing even while in a face to face chat which should not to go beyond 15 minutes.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the national government fully expects the LGUs to employ what they have learned over the past year of facing the health crisis.
“It is incumbent upon our LGUs to really be very aggressive to intensify all of their prevention, early detection, isolation, and treatment protocols. We have been meeting with NCR mayors and LGUs of regions, where increased cases have been observed, to remind them to strengthen all interventions they have done quite successfully in controlling the pandemic in the earlier or middle of 2020,” Duque said.
Duque acknowledged the OCTA Research Team projection that the possibility that the country may see 8,000 new cases per day by the end of March given the current trend.
“Anything is possible if the measures are not implemented aggressively… We are alarmed naturally because of the increases, (but) hopefully, it does not happen,” Duque said.
He said the measures are necessary if only to counter the prevailing “quarantine fatigue” already being experienced by Filipinos one year since the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was first imposed by the Duterte administration.
“The cause of surge is a combination of factors. One of which is the quarantine fatigue that people are experiencing,” said Duque.
DOH – Epidemiology Bureau (EB) Director Alethea De Guzman agreed with Duque. “We have been seeing these variants of concern. If they become the predominant variants, we will really see a huge jump in cases,” De Guzman said.
“For now, our variants compose 7 percent of the sequenced samples. But if they go over 50 percent, we may be able to see not just a jump 3 times, but possibly 28 times,” added De Guzman.
To note, there are already 177 B.1.1.7 variant (UK variant) cases, 90 B.1.351 variant (South Africa variant) cases, and 1 P.1 variant (Brazil variant) in the country.
More recently, the DOH also reported the identification of the P.3 variant, which is a variant first reported in the Philippines, and is now numbering to 98 cases.
The DOH said the healthcare utilization rate in four regions is increasing, especially for beds in the intensive care unit (ICU) wards.
In a virtual press briefing, DOH – Disease Prevention and Control Bureau Director Beverly Ho said hospital beds are slowly being filled up in the NCR, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Central Visayas, and Davao Region.
“The ICU beds are slowly being filled up and it’s always a percentage of the number of cases. Whenever the total number of cases increases, inevitably, a percentage of that will be in the ICU,” said Ho.
In the NCR, she said the healthcare utilization rate is now at 49 percent, although the ICU beds are already at 65 percent.
Among those feeling the surge in COVID-19 patients are the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila and St. Luke’s Hospital both in Taguig City and Quezon City.
The three hospitals both claimed that their emergency room (ER) and intensive care unit (ICU) wards have already reached full occupancy.
They said they have several patients already waiting to be admitted in the emergency rooms and ICU wards.
In CAR, Ho said bed occupancy is at 56 percent but the ICU beds are occupied at 71 percent.
For Central Visayas, the healthcare utilization rate is at 47 percent but their ICU beds are now at 49 percent.
Finally, for Davao Region, Ho noted that bed occupancy is at 33 percent but that 52 percent of ICU beds are already occupied.
Ho, though, pointed that the national healthcare utilization rate is still at a manageable level.
“For the entire country, our healthcare utilization rate is still at 35 percent or low risk,” she said.
Nograles urged hospitals to observe the 20 percent and 30 percent bed capacity allocation for private hospitals and public hospitals, respectively to accommodate more COVID-19 patients.
The Department of Interior and Local Government said it is confident the Metro Manila-wide uniform curfew hours, coupled with the observance of minimum standards and other protocols, will lead to a decrease in COVID-10 cases.
The DILG is confident this will be successful),” Interior undersecretary and spokesman Jonathan Malaya said during the Laging Handa press briefing, referring to the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew which started last night and would be in effected until March 31.
Malaya admitted the curfew will not be enough to stop the rise of COVID-19 infections if people will not cooperate through the observance of health standards. He said the government needs the “individual discipline, individual responsibility” of every Filipino to bring down the number of COVID-19 cases.
The PNP has said that nearly 10,000 policemen will be deployed and 373 checkpoints will be put up in Metro Manila to enforce the uniform curfew hours. Malaya appealed to the public to follow the directives of police officers.
PNP officer-in-charge Guillermo Eleazar urged the public to respect the law enforcers. “Our request to everyone is to follow, and if you are not among those exempted, don’t go out),” said Eleazar.
Among those exempted from the curfew hours are medical practitioners, nurses, ambulance driver and other workers of medical facilities while on their way to and from work; attendants of other persons dealing with an emergency medical situation, persons who are obtaining emergency medical assistance for themselves or for other persons, drivers of delivery trucks while on their way to deliver essential goods/products; owners, vendors and other persons involved in the transport and delivery of essential goods; private employees such as call center agents while on their way to and from work, construction workers while on their way to and from work, media practitioners while performing their job, persons who are travelling to or from airport prior to or after a flight, drivers of private transportation used as shuttle services while on their way to and from work, members of law enforcement agencies, including AFP, Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Fire Protection and other emergency responders; security guards, and employees of fast foods that are open for take-out and delivery transactions.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III suspended work in the Senate for today as he placed the building under lockdown to give way to disinfection and sanitation as the number of employees with COVID-19 ballooned.
Sotto said committee hearings can still be done but only virtually.
“Senate session is suspended until March 17, 2021 at 3:00 p.m. Total lockdown tomorrow, March 16, 2021, but the committees can still proceed with their hearings (Energy and Public Services), but no senate staff will be physically available,” Sotto said.
He said they will also limit regular sessions up to 6 p.m.
“Health protocols will be stricter. We cannot not continue work because we (still) have two weeks before the break (on March 25) and there are many bills from the HOR (House of Representatives) that we need to act on,” Sotto said in a message to the media.
Sotto said he will ask his colleagues to be mindful of the 6 p.m. end of sessions to give Senate employees time to go home before the curfew hours.
Despite the spike in COVID cases, Sotto said he will still be physically present at the Senate halls during the regular sessions.
Senate Secretary Myra Marie Villarica said the Senate’s executive lounge and canteen will be closed for 14 days beginning Monday for disinfection after three employees of the in-house caterer tested positive for COVID-19 after undergoing RT-PCR swab test on Friday last week.
“In this regard, Senate employees are advised to bring their own food and drinks for the duration of the 14-day closure. Normal operations for the executive lounge and canteen will resume on March 29, 2021 or until determined by the MDB (Medical and Dental Bureau),” Villarica said in an advisory.
For the first 15 days of March, the Senate has recorded a total of eight positive cases, of which six were from the secretariat and two from the Senate proper. The total number of COVID cases in the Senate has yet to be released by the Medical and Dental Bureau.
In Manila, Mayor Isko Moreno placed six more barangays under lockdown. The barangays under lockdown from March 17 to 20 are barangay 185, Zone 16 in Tondo, barangay 374, Zone 38 in Sta. Cruz, barangay 521, Zone 52 in Sampaloc, barangay 628, Zone 63 in Sta. Mesa, barangay 675, Zone 74 in Paco, and barangay 847, Zone 92 in Pandacan.
He said the decision to place the said barangays under lockdown was reached after the Manila City Health Department confirmed an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections.
Exempted from the lockdown are medical frontliners, uniformed personnel, government employees, service industry workers such as those employed in drug stores, pharmacies and death care service establishments, barangay officials and media workers accredited by the Presidential Communications
“We are closely monitoring all of our barangays, the 896 barangays, and as I have said last week, I will not hesitate to lockdown the entire city if there is a need just to protect the Manileños,” Moreno said.
Meanwhile, Moreno reminded the public that while there is no liquor ban in Manila, an existing ordinance-Ordinance No.55- prohibited drinking in public places.
He said the Manila Police Department and barangay officials will strictly implement the said ordinance.
In a related development, Moreno said all city government departments, bureaus and offices will implement starting Monday a 30 percent physical working capacity.
Exempted from the reduced physical work force are the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, Department of Public Services, Manila Traffic and Parking Bureau, Manila Health Department, Manila Department of Social Welfare and all the city’s six district hospitals.
In Pasay City, the city government had started conducting swab testing of all employees, including stall owners and helpers, of the Pasay City Public Market (PCPM). PCPM officer-in-charge Engr. Teddy Velasco said they expect to cover 2,000 individuals.
One security guard has tested positive. He is now under quarantine.
Last Saturday, six tested positive out of the 320 stall owners and helpers who were swabbed.
In Muntinlupa, Mayor Jaime Fresnedi yesterday imposed a liquor ban effective March 15 until April 4.
The ban includes the sale, trade, delivery, and consumption of liquor and other alcoholic beverages.
Business establishments which will violate the ban face suspension of their business permits and closure for one week for the first offense, and revocation of its business permit or license for second and succeeding offenses. Government employees who will violate the ban face administrative charges with penalties, while private individuals will be meted a P2,500 penalty for first offense, and P5,000 for second and succeeding offenses. For minors (below 18 years old), their parents or guardians will face charges and those who are part of the local scholarship program will lose their grants.
Mandaluyong City also imposed a liquor ban that took effect last night until March 31.
Mayor Menchie Abalos said business establishments are prohibited from selling alcohol drinks while the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is in effect.
Drinking sessions are also prohibited, as well as inviting guest near or inside their homes during curfew. – With Gerard Naval, Victor Reyes, Raymond Africa, Ashzel Hachero, Noel Talacay and Christian Oineza