MANILA (UPDATED) — The Philippines has 539 new cases of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the highest number reported in a single day since the pandemic started, the health department said Thursday as government prepares to relax lockdown measures to reboot the economy.
The new record was set ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte's decision on a recommendation to further ease beginning June 1 the country's lockdown, one of the world's longest.
Prior to Thursday's tally of new infections, which brought the Philippines' cumulative total to 15,588, the highest number of new COVID-19 cases was recorded on March 31 at 538.
Majority of the new cases reported Thursday are in the capital region (330 or 61%), while 55 or 10 percent are each in Region 7 and from the group of Filipino repatriates, the Department of Health said.
New cases from other regions accounted for 19% (99 cases).
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said most of the cases are considered “local.”
“At ngayon, ito pong mga kasong naitala natin ay galing po sa mga bina-validate nating mga kaso,” she said. “Inaasahan pa rin po natin na sa mga darating na araw, maaari pa rin pang tumaas ang ating mga kaso dahil patuloy na po tayong nakakapag-validate ng mga kaso.”
(And now, these cases that we recorded are from recently validated cases. We are expecting in the coming days a possible increase of cases as we continue to validate.)
“Kumpara sa nakaraang araw, ang trend ng mga kaso ay tumataas, ngunit dahil po ito sa patuloy na pagtaas ng mga kaso nating naba-validate na sa ngayon, dahil nakapag-hire na tayo ng additional encoders,” she explained.
(Compared to the past days, there is an upward trend of cases but this is because of the continued rise in validated cases now that we are able to hire additional encoders.)
The health department also logged 92 new recoveries, raising the total number of COVID-19 patients who have recuperated to 3,598. For each of the past nine days, the number of new recovered patients was less than 100.
Meanwhile, the death toll rose by 17 to 921. It is the 3rd straight day that the number of new deaths reached double digits.
The government's Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease has recommended a downgrade to the general community quarantine or GCQ in Metro Manila by June 1.
The National Capital Region, home to around 12 million people and the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, was placed on community quarantine beginning March 15, and was included in the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine imposed two days later.
Many other areas in the central and southern Philippines also implemented community quarantine measures within the last two months.
The lockdown restricted movement of people and business operations were significantly paralyzed.
According to Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who also acts as spokesman of the IATF, recent COVID-19 data showed that the NCR is "ready" to transition to a GCQ.
This, amid the increasing trend of new cases this week.
The health department recently claimed it now takes 3 days on average to validate COVID-19 test results. While more than 22,000 people have tested positive as of Tuesday, only more than 15,000 of them are considered confirmed cases.
Another cause of delay in the validation of cases and a probable factor in the increase in new cases is the backlog in the tests, which, on Thursday, numbers around 3,600, according to the DOH. It has committed to finish most of it within the day.
Since Tuesday, the agency has been reporting at least 350 new cases in the country each day, of which cases from the NCR contributed to the surge.
During the three-day period through Thursday, the combined tally of new cases is 1,269.
The 55 new cases among repatriated Filipinos reported Thursday is the highest since the 44 new cases reported on May 20.
Worldwide, almost 5.7 million people have been infected by COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus dashboard. Of those, 2.3 million people have already recovered and 355,000 have died.
The new coronavirus is believed to have originated from China late last year. There is still no vaccine and treatment for the disease.