Updated: Sep 2
It’s been almost two years since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, and the number of cases is rising once again. Some areas like Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, Cavite (also known as “NCR Plus”), and other nearby provinces are back under Alert Level 3 from January 3 - 31, 2022.
With the influx of information out there, coupled with feelings of panic and uncertainty, it can get overwhelming to know what’s going on or what to do next. To help our fellow Filipinos stay informed through the pandemic, we’ve created a useful guide you can bookmark for everything related to dealing with COVID-19 this 2022.
What is the COVID-19 Alert Level System?
Last September 13, 2021, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) together with the Department of Health (DOH) implemented a new community quarantine classification system for LGUs and citizens to refer to, aimed to manage the risk of the diseases through public health and social measures. This has effectively replaced the terms ECQ, MECQ, GCQ, and similar variations.
According to the memorandum, there are five (5) COVID-19 Alert Level Systems, which are:
Alert Level 1 - areas wherein case transmission is low and decreasing, total bed utilization rate, and intensive care unit utilization rate is low.
Alert Level 2 - areas wherein case transmission is low and decreasing, healthcare utilization is low, or case counts are low but increasing, or case counts are low and decreasing but total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate is increasing.
Alert Level 3 - areas wherein case counts are high and/or increasing, with total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate at increasing utilization.
Alert Level 4 - areas wherein case counts are high and/or increasing, with total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate at high utilization.
Alert Level 5 - areas wherein case counts are alarming, with total bed utilization rate and intensive care unit utilization rate at critical utilization.
What is Allowed Under the Different Alert Levels?
To plan your essential movements properly, you should be aware of what is and isn’t allowed under the different alert levels.
Movement Restrictions for the Vaccinated vs. Unvaccinated
Starting December 1, 2021, Malacañang has ordered mandatory vaccination for on-site Filipino workers. If they remain unvaccinated, they will need to undergo regular RT-PCR testing, or antigen tests, at their own expense. Business establishments will also have a right to deny entry or service to those who choose to remain unvaccinated despite being eligible.
The government also announced that starting January 17, 2022, the unvaccinated would be barred from taking public transportation in Metro Manila. This “no vaccination, no ride” policy would reportedly reduce the hesitation of the public to get vaccinated. As of January 13, 2022, the Philippines has 54 million vaccinated individuals, which is about half of the general population.
Under Alert Level 3, certain movement restrictions will be imposed on those who are unvaccinated. In Metro Manila, the unvaccinated are banned to enter private and public spaces, such as malls and restaurants, as well as mass transportation.
Stricter movement restrictions are placed for those below 18 or above 65 years old, pregnant women, and those who are immunocompromised or with comorbidities.
The Omicron Variant
On December 14, 2021, the Philippine Genome Center confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant from a returning Filipino and a Nigerian national. By December 31, 2021, the DOH reported three local cases of the Omicron variant. Health Usec. Rosario Vergeire said in an interview that it would be best to assume that community-level transmission of the Omicron variant is already present in the Philippines, so we should take extra precautions.
But what is the Omicron variant, exactly?
The Omicron variant was first detected in Botswana and South Africa in November 2021. After a few months of observing the behavior of the variant, scientists and doctors have deduced that it is a much milder form of COVID-19’s Alpha and Delta strains. However, the transmissibility is much greater than any previous variant recorded, and ‘mild’ is relative—especially considering one’s vaccination status.
The DOH reported that the Omicron variant has the same symptoms as Delta and previous variants: cough, fever, sore throat, fatigue, loss of taste and/or smell, headache, body pain, rashes, and conjunctivitis.
That said, an infected person will not exhibit all symptoms, so it would be much more reliable to take an RT-PCR test if you feel unwell. If you have been exposed to a COVID-positive person, wait until the 5th day for the reliability of results.
Keeping Safe Against COVID-19
Besides following usual health protocols of frequent handwashing, social distancing, staying at home, wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, and subsequently getting a booster shot is your best bet at preventing hospitalization due to COVID-19.
Booster Shot Combinations
If you have not gotten your first and second dose, it’s important that you schedule an appointment with your LGU as soon as possible. Getting vaccinated has proven to be effective in preventing severe cases of COVID-19. DOH reports that 85% of ICU patients in Metro Manila hospitals are unvaccinated.
If you have already gotten your second dose, you might be wondering which vaccine brand you are eligible for. Here’s a timeline of when you can get your booster, and which brands are compatible:
A homologous booster shot means getting inoculated with the same brand as your primary series; while heterologous booster shots are different vaccine brands compatible with your primary series.
With the presence of the Omicron variant and the rise in cases, it is advised that using an N95 mask or double-masking (cloth mask + surgical mask) is the most effective way of keeping yourself safe, as well as those around you.
When to See a Doctor
For your peace of mind, you might want to have the option of seeing a doctor who can give you medical advice in managing your symptoms. Health Usec. Rosario Vergeire urged the public to consider telemedicine if they are only experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, instead of going to hospitals. Doctor Anywhere accepts COVID-19 consultations on the app, where you can see a general practitioner within minutes; or book an appointment at your preferred time.
Getting an RT-PCR test is still the most effective way to determine if you have COVID-19. Vaccination is also your best option to prevent severe illness due to the coronavirus. With the help of our doctors and medical front liners, let us all do our part in observing public health safety protocols and keeping safe and healthy in the comfort of our homes.