The entire Philippines will remain under Alert Level 2 for the rest of December, even as the country has been classified as "minimal risk" for COVID-19, as government officials eye to further ramp up vaccinations in light of the impending threat of the potentially more transmissible Omicron variant.
Acting Malacañang spokesman Karlo Nograles made the announcement during the televised palace briefing on Dec. 15, citing the meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
"We are being very cautious," Nograles said. "Hindi pa talaga tayo ganoon ka-confident to open places under Alert Level 1 because we still need to ramp up our vaccination."
Minutes before Nograles's confirmation, Department of Health (DOH) Sec. Francisco Duque already broke the news to reporters.
"Hindi pa puwedeng magluwag to Alert Level 1 dahil sa banta ng Omicron variant," said Duque, who also chairs the IATF.
Nograles also announced that the previous guidelines for the community quarantine system have already been repealed, since the country has already adopted the alert level system nationwide.
The IATF, meanwhile, has also allowed cockpits to operate in areas under Alert Level 2, provided that there are no objections from the local government units where the games would take place.
All on-site workers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Cockpits may only cater to fully vaccinated individuals up to 50% capacity.
"Betting shall be cashless and shall use technology-based platforms only," read the IATF Resolution No. 154 presented by Nograles. "No physical exchange of cash anywhere in the cockpit and no oral placing of bets."
Under Alert Level 2, the second lowest in the five-level system, several establishments are allowed at half capacity indoors for fully vaccinated adults and even unvaccinated minors. Outdoor settings may accept anybody at 70% capacity.
As for Alert Level 1, all intrazonal and interzonal movement shall be allowed without regard to age and comorbidities. All establishments, persons, or activities, are also allowed to operate, work, or be undertaken at full capacity in accordance with minimum public health standards.
The country on Dec. 14 reported 235 new COVID-19 cases, its lowest in nearly 19 months. That day's record-low fresh daily infections also marked five straight days of new cases below 500 and three straight weeks of new cases south of 1,000.
The country's record peak in infections was in September when daily infections rose to as high as 26,000 a day due to the Delta variant, which triggered a sruge in COVID-19 infections around the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in its technical brief last Dec. 13 said that current limited evidence suggests that Omicron variant has a "growth advantage" over the already infectious Delta variant, inasmuch as it "suggests a reduction" in vaccine efficacy.
"Given the current available data, it is likely that Omicron will outpace the Delta variant where community transmission occurs," the WHO said.
Dr. Aletheia De Guzman, officer in charge of the DOH Epidemiology Bureau, earlier cited studies saying that one Omicron case can infect up to 10 people, vis-à-vis Delta's 8.