By Deighton Acuin

PHOTO: Rappler

Despite detection of new COVID-19 variants, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III expressed confidence the Philippines is ready to shift to a least stringent quarantine measure, the Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ).

“I think we are ready. I can say that because after one year, we have managed to keep our infection rate manageable… It is at a level that has not overwhelmed the healthcare system,” Duque told CNN Philippines on Monday.

Duque said the local executives have been “increasingly effective” on managing the infection, citing the caseload increase after holidays and Black Nazarene festivity than expected.

He stressed the localized lockdowns are the “way to go.”

“You cannot discount the fact that you will have some spikes. Now we see that happening in Pasay, in Navotas, but I think the interventions of early detection, isolation, treatment, and re-integration strategies are very much in place,” Duque said.

Pasay City earlier tightened 33 barangays due to spike of coronavirus infections.

The UP-OCTA Research group also noted an upward trend of infections in National Capital Region (NCR).

Duque said the government needs to perform “difficult” and “delicate” acts on balancing the sectors of economy and health.

“We really have to move towards risk mitigation rather than risk aversion. Risk mitigation with the goal of, of course, keeping the infection rate low and when the infection rate is low, the chances for mutation are also low,” he said.

He also believes the country’s healthcare system can cope up with the transition.

“So far sa tingin natin kakayanin, kakayanin naman. We will never be able to know until that situation actually evolves, whether the system is ready. We’ll see… We can always escalate if the data support escalation given the metric of healthcare utilization rate, the two-week average daily attack rate, et cetera,” he said.

The health chief also rejected recommendations to postpone the MGCQ shift until vaccines have been rolled out.

“Dapat ito kasi sabay sabay hanggang sa maaari. Hindi puwede sequential, ‘Ito mauuna ‘yung bakuna, tapos susunod ‘yung bukas ng ekonomiya.’ That’s not the way, it’s too narrow a perspective, I feel. This is my personal opinion. My take on this is really [a] simultaneous, broadfront approach,” Duque said.

Last week, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) recommended placing the entire country to MGCQ in a bid to fight rising hunger amid the health emergency.

Despite apprehension from Metro Manila mayors, they ultimately voted in favor of easing quarantine restrictions.

President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to have his final say within the day.

So far, the Philippines recorded 561,169 total coronavirus cases, 522,843 recoveries, and 12,088 mortalities.