EXPLAINER: The Philippines’ COVID-19 alert level system | Inquirer News
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EXPLAINER: The Philippines’ COVID-19 alert level system

By: - Content Researcher Writer / @CeBacligINQ
/ 03:58 PM January 04, 2022

Artwork by Ed Lustan

MANILA, Philippines—The recent holiday season has made some people briefly forget about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But as we move onto another year and as the government implements stricter guidelines again in some regions, people are reminded that the dreaded disease still lurks around and infects populations.

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Starting Monday (Jan. 3) to Jan. 15, Metro Manila will be under Alert Level 3 due to the recent spike of COVID-19 cases in the capital following the holiday celebrations.

On Dec. 31, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, acting presidential spokesperson, announced that the capital region will be placed under the stricter alert level, citing the sharp increase in cases and the detection of three local cases of the highly infectious Omicron variant of SARS Cov2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

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Graphic by Ed Lustan

READ: NCR under Alert Level 3 from Jan. 3 to Jan. 15 — Palace

Nograles said the spike in COVID-19 infections in the country could have been due to increased mobility of people during the holiday season, the public’s failure to comply with minimum health protocols and the spread of Omicron.

This report hopes to provide detailed guidelines about the different alert level systems being imposed by the government as a refresher on what to know about those.

Alert level systems

The new alert level system was approved in September last year. The new quarantine measures have been tagged as levels 1 to 5 and included provisions for localized lockdowns.

The higher the alert level number is, the stricter the guidelines are.

READ: Here we go again: New lockdown system, same COVID surge

On Jan. 3, however, Nograles said the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases will reassess the guidelines and restrictions under the new alert level system.

“The IATF will meet because remember, when these rules were crafted and announced, that was a time that our vaccination coverage is still low. So, it’s something that we will revisit,” he said on ANC.

READ: IATF to reassess Alert Level 3 restrictions — Nograles

Graphic by Ed Lustan

While the government has yet to come up with a new set of rules and guidelines for the alert level system, here are the differences between the five alert levels in a nutshell, based on IATF guidelines as of Dec. 14, 2021:

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  • Alert Level 1: Covers areas with low and decreasing COVID-19 cases and transmission, as well as low total hospital bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate.
  • Alert Level 2: Covers areas with low and decreasing case transmission, low health care utilization, or low but increasing COVID-19 case counts, or low and decreasing case counts but with an increasing total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate.
  • Alert Level 3: Covers areas with high and/or increasing COVID-19 cases, high or increasing total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate.
  • Alert Level 4: Covers areas with high and/or increasing case counts, with high total bed utilization rate and high intensive care unit utilization rate.
  • Alert Level 5: Covers areas with an alarmingly high COVID-19 case count, with total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate which are considered as critical.

Graphic by Ed Lustan

Alert Level 1

Under Alert Level 1, the lowest, movement is allowed for people of all ages, including those with comorbidity.

Establishments and activities are allowed to operate at full capacity but heeding minimum health protocols.

Face-to-face classes for basic education are subject to the approval of the Office of the President.

Alert Level 2

Movement of people is allowed but local governments are allowed to impose “reasonable restrictions” that should not exceed those prescribed under higher alert levels and are subject to the approval of local IATF councils.

Establishments and activities that are not allowed to operate under this alert level—unless given permission by the IATF or the Office of the President—included casinos, horse racing, cockfighting, lottery, cockpits, betting shops and other gaming establishments.

Establishments that are allowed to operate with a maximum 50 percent indoor capacity for fully vaccinated individuals and people below 18 years old (even if unvaccinated) and a 70 percent outdoor venue capacity included:

  • venues for meetings, mass gatherings, and social events such as parties;
  • visitor and tourist attractions;
  • amusement parks or theme parks;
  • recreational venues such as internet cafes, arcade, bowling alleys, skating rinks, swimming pools, and other similar venues;
  • cinemas and movie houses;
  • in-person religious gatherings, including funeral services for those who died of causes other than COVID-19;
  • licensure or entrance/qualifying examinations subject to health and safety guidelines as approved by the IATF;
  • dine-in services;
  • personal care establishments like hair salons, spas, barbershops, nail spas, and those offering aesthetic or cosmetic services or procedures—subject to the sector-specific protocols of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI);
  • fitness studios, gyms, and venues for individual non-contact exercise and sports;
  • funfairs or peryas, playgrounds, playroom, and kiddie rides;
  • karaoke bars, clubs, concert halls, and theaters;
  • gatherings in residences with individuals not belonging to the same household.

Limited face-to-face classes for basic education are subject to the approval of the Office of the President.

Government agencies and offices shall remain fully operational and shall adhere to at least an 80 percent onsite workforce.

Alert Level 3

LGUs shall decide restrictions on the movement of people, subject to the oversight, monitoring, and evaluation of local IATF councils. Restrictions should not be stricter than those for higher alert levels.

People below 18 years of age and those belonging to the vulnerable segment of the population are allowed to go out for essential goods and services, or for work in permitted industries and offices

Establishments and activities barred from operating included:

  • funfairs, playgrounds, playrooms, and kiddie rides;
  • karaoke bars, clubs, concert halls, and theaters;
  • casinos, horse racing cockfighting, and lottery;
  • gathering of individuals not belonging in the same household.

These establishments and activities are allowed to operate or be undertaken at a maximum of 30 percent indoor capacity for fully vaccinated individuals and 50 percent outdoor venue capacity:

  • venues for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions;
  • venues for social events such as parties, wedding receptions, family reunions;
  • visitor or tourist attractions such as libraries, museums, plazas, etc.;
  • amusement parks or theme parks;
  • recreational venues like internet cafes, arcades, bowling alleys, skating rinks, swimming pools, and similar venues;
  • cinemas and movie houses;
  • in-person religious gatherings including funeral services;
  • licensure or entrance/qualifying examinations subject to health and safety guidelines as approved by the IATF;
  • dine-in services;
  • personal care establishments like hair salons, hair spas, barber shops, nail spas, and those offering aesthetic or cosmetic services or procedures—subject to the sector-specific protocols of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI);
  • fitness studios, gyms, and venues for individual non-contact exercise and sports.

Government agencies and offices shall remain fully operational while observing a 60 percent onsite capacity and flexible working arrangements.

Alert Level 4

Travel is allowed for everyone except for those below 18 years old, above 65 years old, with comorbidity or other health risks, and pregnant women.

Minors and those belonging to the vulnerable segment of the population are still allowed access to essential goods and services, or for work in permitted industries and offices.

The same people, if fully vaccinated, may also be allowed for point-to-point travel, staycations, and outdoor exercises—provided that the minimum public health standards and precautions, like wearing of face masks and the maintenance of social distancing protocols, are observed.

These establishments and activities are not allowed to operate:

  • face-to-face classes for basic education, higher education, or for technical vocational education and training, except those approved by the IATF and/or the Office of the President;
  • indoor and outdoor contact sports;
  • cinemas and movie houses;
  • fun fairs, playgrounds, playroom, and kiddie rides;
  • karaoke bars, clubs, concert halls, and theaters;
  • casinos, horse racing, cockfighting, lottery, betting shops, and other gaming establishments except those authorized by the IATF or the Office of the President;
  • gatherings in residences with individuals not belonging to the same household.

Some establishments and activities are allowed to operate at a maximum of 10 percent indoor venue capacity for fully vaccinated individuals and 30 percent outdoor venue capacity provided that they have been issued a Safety Seal Certification.

These include:

  • venues for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE);
  • permitted venues for social events;
  • visitor or tourist attractions;
  • amusement parks and theme parks;
  • recreational venues.

Establishments and activities that are likewise allowed to operate under this alert level but only with a maximum of 10 percent indoor venue capacity for fully vaccinated individuals and 30 percent outdoor venue capacity include:

  • in-person religious gatherings like worship and/or service, except processions and other similar mobile religious gatherings;
  • licensure or entrance/qualifying examinations subject to health and safety guidelines approved by the IATF;
  • dine-in services;
  • personal care establishments like hair salons, spas, barber shops, nail spas, and those offering aesthetic or cosmetic services or procedures—subject to the sector-specific protocols of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI);
  • fitness studios, gyms, and venues for individual non-contact exercise and sports;
  • film, music, and television production, subject to the joint guidelines of the DTI, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), and the Department of Health (DOH).

Gatherings for funerals, wakes for those who died of causes other than COVID-19 will be limited to immediate family members only and with full compliance with the minimum public health standards.

Government agencies and offices shall remain fully operational and shall adhere to at least a 40 percent onsite workforce.

Alert Level 5

Alert Level 5, the highest, will follow rules and strictest restrictions implemented during enhanced community quarantines (ECQs).

The movement of people is limited to accessing goods and services from permitted establishments, for work in such establishments, or for other activities allowed under this alert level.

Persons below 18, above 65, with comorbidity and other health risks, and pregnant women are required to remain inside their residences at all times, “except for obtaining essential goods and services, or for work in industries and offices or such other activities” permitted under Alert Level 5.

Rising COVID-19 cases

For two straight days, the health department recorded over 4,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the country—4,600 reported on Sunday (Jan. 2) and 4,084 on Monday (Jan. 3).

The overall case count stands at 2,855,819, with 24,992 marked as active cases, 2,779,241 total recoveries, and 51,586 total deaths.

Of the 18,587 individuals tested for COVID-19 last Jan. 1, 20.7 percent were positive for infection.

READ: PH logs 4,084 new COVID-19 cases; positivity rate hits 20%

In addition, the DOH on Monday (Jan. 3) said that the country is yet again classified as “high risk” for COVID-19, after recording a 222 percent positive two-week infection growth rate from Dec. 6 to 19, 2021 and Dec. 20, 2021 to Jan. 2, 2022.

READ: PH back at ‘high risk’ for COVID-19

The spike in COVID-19 cases has led the DOH to assume the high possibility of local transmission of the Omicron variant.

“Based on our observation, our assumption is it’s now in the community because we have seen the sudden increase in the number of cases,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.

“In other countries, according to our experts, virus cases double every two days. We can see that trend here in the Philippines. That’s why our assumption is Omicron has already reached our communities,” she added.

READ: Omicron may be driving spike in COVID infections – DOH

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