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ILOILO, Philippines – Iloilo City has reimposed mask mandates as other local governments across the region ramp up vaccination drives anew due to rising COVID-19 cases.
Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas on Tuesday, April 25 issued Executive Order No. 048 series of 2023. It mandates the wearing of face masks for indoor public and private establishments, in all public transport, and in outdoor settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
The EO makes mask-wearing voluntary in open spaces and “non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation.”
The city “strongly encouraged” individuals who are only partially vaccinated or unvaccinated against COVID-19, as well as immunocompromised persons and senior citizens, to keep on their masks and always observe one-meter distancing, even in outdoor settings.
Treñas’ EO follows reports of rising COVID-19 cases, particularly the detection of the Omicron XBB.1.16 subvariant, also called “Arcturus” strain.
Treñas, asked about fines or jail time for violators of the indoor mask mandates, said they would rather remind or reprimand violators.
“We are banking on the cooperation of the Ilonggos,” he said.
As of Monday, Iloilo City has logged 84 cases in April 2023.
That is already close to December 2022’s total tally (99), and almost double that of March 2023 (44).
The city’s positivity rate rose to 7.08% in April 23 from just 1.70% on April 1.
Positivity rate refers to the percentage of people who tested positive for COVID among the overall number of people who have been tested.
Since January 2023, the city has logged 187 cases including two deaths so far this year.
Unvaccinated at high risk
In Bacolod City, an unvaccinated senior citizen died of COVID-19 on Monday, April 24, according to the city health office.
The death of the 77-year-old female brings the number of COVID-19 deaths in the city to nine, said Bacolod Emergency Operations Center head Dr. Anna Maria Laarni Pornan.
All fatalities were unvaccinated residents, Pornan added.
Six new COVID-19 cases were reported on Wednesday, April 26, bringing to 54 the city’s active cases.
Meanwhile, the Negros Occidental Provincial Incident Management Team said the Cadiz District Hospital on Wednesday admitted 11 new COVID-19 cases.
Bacolod Mayor Albee Benitez reminded residents that they need to wear face masks in enclosed, air-conditioned vehicles like buses and the new, modern jeepney.
He said the city government also advices people in crowded spaces, even outdoors, to wear masks.
Bacolod is at Level 1, the most lenient of categories, which imposes no restrictions.
Negros Occidental, which is on Level 2, continues to struggle with resistance towards COVID-19 vaccines.
Health and local government officials have said the problem is most pronounced among senior citizens and members of conservative rural churches.
The Iloilo Provincial Health Office (IPHO) also reported a spike in COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks.
IPHO chief Dr. Maria Socorro Colmenares-Quiñon said the province logged 52 new cases with one death in a span of two weeks, from April 9 to 22, 2023.
“The cases continue to increase, with our daily average at approximately four cases in a day,” Quiñon added.
Data from IPHO indicated that 24 Iloilo towns have active COVID-19 cases. The province’s average daily case in April is 3.71% from only 2.42% in March.
On April 24, 2023, Iloilo province recorded four new cases: two in Oton and one each in Pavia and Santa Barbara.
On April 26, the Department of Health central office announced the detection of the first case of the Arcturus case in Iloilo province, declaring the patient asymptomatic and already recovered.
Arcturus is a sub-lineage of the XBB subvariant added by the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
It was “initially flagged as a new variant of interest due to its increasing global prevalence and for having mutations which may lead to an increase in infectivity or pathogenicity.”
DOH-Western Visayas said it is still verifying the status of the first XBB.1.16 case through the Iloilo Provincial Health Office (IPHO), a 16-year-old female admitted to the Western Visayas Medical Center in Iloilo City.
Dr. Roland Jay Fortuna said the Iloilo Iloilo City Health Office (ICHO) will be campaigning anew for COVID-19 vaccination and booster shots.
ICHO’s data on vaccinations indicated an almost 40% booster shot coverage.
Western Visayas’ regional accomplishment rate for booster shots is 12% if factoring in other provinces and Bacolod City.
“We are going after the fully vaccinated senior citizens because we want to reach at least 80%. We are now at 79%,” Fortuna remarked.
ICHO vaccination data on seniors or those 60 years old and above, show a primary series rate of 78.59% and 38.90% for boosters.
The ICHO has secured approval for the extension of the shelf life of previous Pfizer vaccine stocks, apart from the recent arrival of new stock.
The national government on Sunday, April 23, announced the city will remain under Alert Level 1 for COVID, despite the rise in COVID cases.
Fortuna said COVID vaccination coverage, particularly for senior citizens, was a significant consideration for the Alert Level status of an area. – Rappler.com