By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Sunday approved more restrictions for Manila, the capital and nearby cities and provinces as the Philippines reported 7,757 coronavirus infections, the second-highest daily tally since the pandemic started last year.

Sunday’s tally was the third straight day that infections exceeded 7,000. The Department of Health (DoH) reported a record 7,999 COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) cases on Saturday, surpassing Friday’s 7,103 infections. It happened more than a year since Metro Manila was placed under one of the strictest and longest lockdowns in the world.

Mr. Duterte approved a recommendation by an inter-agency task force to keep the capital region and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal under a general community quarantine with more restrictions from Mar. 22 to Apr. 4, his spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing.

Mass gatherings and some religious activities would be banned, he said, adding that an eight-hour curfew starting at 10:00 pm would be imposed.

Only essential travel into and out of Metro Manila and surrounding areas would be allowed, Mr. Roque said.

Health workers, economic frontliners, government officials, people in need of medical services and returning migrant workers would be exempted from the travel restrictions. Some businesses would be closed for two weeks, he added.

Driving schools, traditional cinemas, video and interactive game arcades, cultural centers, establishments accredited by the Tourism department and cockpit operations would be suspended.

The operational capacities of essential and nonessential industries would be kept, Mr. Roque said. Dine-in operations of restaurants would be prohibited unless done outside.

He said public transportation capacity would be kept. Public and cargo vehicles and traveling workers should not be restricted by the curfew, he added.

Mr. Roque said the inter-agency task force also urged hospitals in general community quarantine areas to increase their beds for coronavirus patients.

DoH reported 7,757 coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 663,794. The death toll rose by 39 to 12,968, while recoveries increased by 15,288 to 577,754, it said in a bulletin.

There were 73,072 active cases, 95% of which were mild, 2.3% did not show symptoms, 1% were critical, 1.1% were severe and 0.58% were moderate.

The agency said 19 duplicates had been removed from the tally, while two recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Two laboratories failed to submit data on Mar. 20.

About nine million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Mar. 16, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened around 123.5 million and killed 2.7 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization. About 99.5 million people have recovered, it said.

Hospitals in Metro Manila were expected to reach full capacity by next week if the government fails to control infections, the OCTA Research Group said on Sunday.

If the current reproduction number of about 1.9 continues, total bed and intensive care units for coronavirus patients would reach full capacity by the first week of April, the group said.

Reducing the reproduction number to 1.5 delays the threshold by about one to two weeks to the middle of the month.

“These projections suggest that the current surge in the capital is at a critical juncture,” OCTA Research said in an e-mailed report.

“Unless the National Government and our local government units take drastic and immediate action to significantly reduce the reproduction number of the surge in Metro Manila, we should expect our hospital facilities and medical frontliners to be overwhelmed within a period of several weeks, just around and after Easter,” it added.

The group said it used conservative parameters and did not take into account the spread of the B117 or B1351 variants in the capital. “We wanted to present the best case scenario. We assumed that patients are hospitalized seven days after the onset of symptoms on average.”

Health authorities on Saturday announced the detection of 46 more cases involving a more contagious variant first detected in the United Kingdom, bringing the total to 223.

Sixty-two new cases were detected with the variant first detected in Brazil, bringing the total to 152, while six more cases were found with the variant first found in the Philippines, bringing the total to 104.

DoH, Philippine Genome Center, and the UP-National Institutes for Health said the P.3 variant which was first detected in the country was not “a variant of concern” because current data were insufficient to conclude if the variant will have “significant public health implications.”

In a separate advisory on Saturday, DoH urged people to stay home and wear a mask at home when not alone.

It also said that households should ensure adequate air circulation and seek immediate consultation when experiencing symptoms.