By Vann Marlo M. Villegas , Reporter
HEALTH authorities reported a record increase in coronavirus infections on Thursday, just as Manila, the capital and nearby cities expected the government to ease an 11-week lockdown — one of the longest in the world — starting June 1.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 539 new cases, bringing the total to 15,588.
The death toll rose to 921 after 17 more patients died, it said in a bulletin. Ninety-two more patients have gotten well, bringing the total recoveries to 3,598, it added.
Of the 539 new cases, 330 came from Metro Manila, 55 from Central Visayas and 99 from the other regions. Fifty-five were returning Filipino workers from overseas.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire traced the record increase to more validated cases.
“We expect the cases to increase in the coming days because we continue to validate cases,” she said at an online news briefing.
Ms. Vergeire said earlier in the day the government had ordered local laboratories to fast-track testing and clear almost 4,000 backlogs.
She also said the Philippines needs more than P11 billion to hire workers who will trace people who may have been in contact with a coronavirus-infected patient and prevent further spread.
The country, where infections have reached more than 15,000, needs more than 120,000 contact tracers in the next three months, Ms. Vergeire said.
The World Health Organization has recommended one contact tracer for every 800 people.
“We have 38,000 plus contact tracers now,” Ms. Vergeire said. “We still need 95,000 more.”
She earlier said contact tracers should ideally be a nurse or someone in the healthcare profession.
Contact tracers are expected to gather data, interview people and assess the health of contacts.
DoH is discussing the hiring of the workers with the Department of Interior and Local Government.
The virus has sickened 5.8 million and killed about 358,000 people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.