Scrap COVID-19 alert level system for NCR — Rep. Salceda

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LAWMAKER and economist Joey Sarte Salceda (Albay, 2nd District) wants the alert-level system for COVID-19 be scrapped amid worries that the National Capital Region (NCR) could again be placed under new restrictions.

The House Ways and Means Chair objects to any further restrictions in economic activities after the Department of Health announced on Monday that the region could again be placed under Alert Level 2 if cases continue to increase, which means tighter restrictions may again be re-imposed.

At this point, the alert level system, which is primarily based on number of COVID-19 cases, no longer makes sense from a healthcare point of view. Cases will always be there, so we have to measure our ability to live with the cases.”

Executive Order No. 166 s. 2022 already prescribes that we use more useful and empowering metrics for decisionmaking on COVID-19. It explicitly instructs that we use both total and severe cases, case fatality, and vaccination rates for decisions on restrictions. So, I don’t understand this talk that a rise in cases might necessitate higher alert level,” Salceda added.

He said that the EO is already the law so there is a need to change the paradigm. He cited his district in Albay where he already instructed the regional hospital and the COVID management committee to prepare their most vulnerable population and healthcare workers with boosters.

He also reminded the IATF that every week in lockdown in NCR costs workers around P1.6 billion in salaries. “If they have no plan on how to replace the nutrition, non-COVID health, and welfare losses from that, then we should be more circumspect about declaring alert levels,” Salceda said.

Earlier, Salceda has also warned of a possible nutrition crisis due to higher prices of food. He said an alert level increase will worsen the food situation for around 640,000 households in NCR, and could bring them below the hunger line. “Again, I hope the IATF considers that,” Salceda added.

We had around 74,000 deaths that were COVID-19 related in 2021. But total deaths, year-on-year, grew by 154,562. So, actually, you had more people dying of non-COVID causes than COVID itself, perhaps due to the economic effects.”

An early lockdown would have worked. But lockdowns at this late stage of the pandemic, especially now that people have learned to live with it, would be counterproductive both health-wise and economy-wise.”

He advised to keep minimum health standards and empower people to take care of their health. The lawmaker said that vaccines, better nutrition, and the certainty that there will be hospital beds when they are needed can give the people more agency than lockdowns or higher alert levels.

He emphasized that if the people are given that and are allowed to earn a living, they will be able to make decisions about their health.

An alert level will have very marginal, if any, COVID-mitigating effects. But it will cost working families, especially in the informal and self-employed sectors, gravely.”

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