Health experts: Retain Alert Level 2 status in NCR amid Omicron threat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 29) — Health experts are backing Health Secretary Francisco Duque III’s appeal to extend the Alert Level 2 status for Metro Manila until the first quarter of 2022 amid the threat of a new COVID-19 variant.

Health reform advocate Dr. Tony Leachon and infectious diseases expert Dr. Rontgene Solante said it is better to be cautious in view of the uncertainties surrounding the new variant.

“I know it’s not yet in our country but just an extreme precaution at this point in time, especially the holidays," Solante said on Sunday. "I would totally agree with Secretary Duque not to downgrade alert level even during the holidays,” .

Leachon couldn't agree more.

“I think it would be best that we think about this and perhaps suspend our decision to shift to the looser quarantine from Alert Level Two to Alert Level One given the vaccination challenges that we have right now as well as the threat of the omicron variant entering the country through our borders,” he explained.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) is reconsidering plans to downgrade the capital region’s status following recent developments.

Duque earlier said Metro Manila can ease restrictions if daily COVID-19 cases drop below 1,000. The Department of Finance earlier also said economic managers expect the entire Philippines to be under the lowest Alert Level 1 status by the start of 2022.

The Philippines has not yet detected a case of the Omicron variant of concern. The World Health Organization said it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible or causes more severe disease compared to other variants, including Delta.

Face shield mandate to return?

The IATF is also studying if there is a need to reimpose the face shield mandate, given that the Omicron variant could be more transmissible than the Delta variant.

But for Leachon, the controversial policy's return should take a back seat for now.

“I don’t think we have to reinstate the face shield," he said. "This has been decided. And even with surges all over the world, the face shields have not been used.”

“It will create again some noise and leading to lack of focus also for the decision makers and also for our countrymen,” Leachon added.

As for Solante, he believes the use of face shields are most effective in enclosed public spaces like malls, restaurants, as well as public transportation.

“If there is a chance to revisit again siguro kailangan natin i-emphasize ang face shields among these areas lang,” he said.

[Translation: If there is a chance to revisit (the health protocols), I guess we need to emphasize the use of face shields in these areas (enclosed spaces) only.]

The country scrapped the rule for those in areas under Alert Levels 1 to 3 last Nov. 15. However, the use of face shields are still required in hospitals, areas under granular lockdown and Alert Level 5.