MAYORS in the Philippine capital and nearby cities have voted to lower the lockdown in the region to the most relaxed level amid decreasing coronavirus infections.

“The basis of the Metro Manila Council to ease the restrictions in the region is to open up the economy to ensure job generation,” Romando S. Artes, officer-in-charge of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), told a news briefing on Wednesday.

The 17 mayors don’t have the power to decide on the lockdown level and can only recommend actions to an inter-agency task force against the coronavirus.

The Department of Health (DoH) posted 1,534 infections on Wednesday — the fifth straight day the tally fell below 2,000 — bringing the total to 3.66 million.

The death toll hit 55,977 after 201 more patients died, while recoveries rose by 2,729 to 3.54 million, it said in a bulletin.

It added that 6.1% of 24,527 samples from Feb. 21 tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), still above the 5% threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Of 55,449 active cases, 652 did not show symptoms, 50,258 were mild, 2,811 were moderate, 1,426 were severe and 302 were critical.

DoH said 69% of new cases occurred on Feb. 10 to 23. The top regions with cases in the past two weeks were Metro Manila with 205, Central Luzon with 114 and Calabarzon with 113 infections. It added that 34% of new deaths occurred in February and 59% in January.

It said 109 duplicates had been removed from the tally, 99 of which were recoveries, while 187 recoveries were relisted as deaths. Two laboratories failed to submit data on Feb. 21.

The MMDA said the National Capital Region’s (NCR) positivity rate for COVID-19 was now at 4.64%, below the 5% threshold set by the WHO.

The healthcare and COVID-19 bed use rates in the capital region had fallen to 24.8% as of Feb. 20, it added, citing DoH data.

It said only one of 17 Metro Manila local government units remained at moderate risk from the virus. “The rest are already at low-risk classification based on the two-week growth rate and average daily attack rate.”

Mr. Artes said local governments could enforce health protocols under Alert Level 1, adding that there had been no infection spikes in the past two weeks amid the start of the election campaign for this year’s elections.

Metro Manila was placed under the second alert level in a five-tier lockdown system until the end of February.

“As of Feb. 22, our latest data show a decline in COVID-19 cases over the past weeks,” DoH said in a statement, after the WHO said a drop in COVID-19 testing rates was likely contributing to a decline in reported cases worldwide.

“We have also observed a decline in hospital admissions, which can be correlated to the decline of cases,” the Health department said. “Notably, the national intensive care unit utilization rate is now at 30% compared with 51% in Jan. 22.”

DoH noted that while antigen test results are not included in its numbers, local governments must submit any results that are then analyzed with RT-PCR results from accredited laboratories.

It added that while some laboratories have failed to submit their reports on time, the delays have not significantly affected the daily tallies. Regular tests are still being done across the country and local governments have been asked to boost testing and contact-tracing efforts.

Meanwhile, the agency said the Delta variant was the most common lineage in the country as of Feb. 22, accounting for 34.8% of total samples. The Omicron variant was the second most common at 19.6%.

“While the DoH now introduces the term endemicity, it should be noted that the result of the whole genome sequencing is not a measure to declare an endemic state,” DoH said. “We have metrics to follow to declare a disease as endemic.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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