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

THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) reported 8,773 coronavirus infections on Thursday, the highest daily tally since the pandemic started last year.

Thursday’s tally surpassed the 8,019 infections reported on Monday, bringing the total to 693,048, it said in a bulletin.

The death toll rose to 13,095 after 56 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 574 to 580,062.

There were 99,891 active cases, 95% of which were mild, 3% did not show symptoms, 0.8% were critical, 0.8% were severe and 0.44% were moderate.

The agency said 36 duplicates had been removed from the tally, while seven recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Six laboratories failed to submit data on Mar. 24.

About 9.2 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Mar. 23, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 125.5 million and killed almost 2.8 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.

About 101.3 million people have recovered, it said.

Coronavirus infections in the capital region have reached 216,755 as of Mar. 23, Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Benjamin D. Abalos told a separate televised news briefing on Thursday.

Almost 4,000 swab tests were being conducted daily amid a fresh surge in cases, he said. More than 23,500 Filipinos in the National Capital Region were swabbed from Mar. 15 to 20.

Mr. Abalos said more than 160 granular lockdowns had been implemented in several cities in the capital region to contain the pandemic.

He said the Education department had approved the use of public school buildings in Metro Manila as isolation facilities after the occupancy rate in hotel isolation facilities reached 91%.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police has installed more than 60 quarantine checkpoints in Metro Manila and nearby provinces after the areas were placed under a travel corridor.

National police chief Debold M. Sinas told a televised meeting with President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Wednesday night 3,652 cops had been deployed at quarantine points.

Police had recorded 27,513 curfew violations in Metro Manila from Mar. 15 to 23, he added.

More than 1.5 million violations of minimum health protocols were recorded from Aug. 20, 2020 to Mar. 23 this year, he said.

Metro Manila had the highest number of violations at 260,253, followed by Central Luzon at 52,211 and Southern Tagalog at 34,859.

Most of the violations involved failure to wear face masks, Mr. Sinas said.

Meanwhile, Nina G. Gloriani, former dean of University of the Philippines-Manila College of Medicine, cited the potential for the coronavirus to mutate further as the infection rate soars.

She said some mutated viruses were more contagious and more resistant to vaccines.

“Virus variants can be controlled if enough people — we put this at 70-80% of the population — are vaccinated and become immune to the virus,” she told an online news briefing.

“This way, we can achieve herd or community immunity,” she said, citing the need to comply with health protocols.

Also on Thursday, presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. said people who jumped the coronavirus vaccination queue should be allowed to get the second shot so as not to waste vaccines.

During his public address on Wednesday night, Mr. Duterte named a number of mayors who got vaccinated even if they were not on the priority list.

He said the Interior and Local Government department had asked them to explain why and how they got the shots.

The President said it was difficult to tell whether the mayors should be held liable since several of them had made the excuse that they wanted to encourage people hesitant of getting the shots.

The World Health Organization earlier said the country risked losing hundreds of thousands of vaccines under a global initiative for equal access if it fails to follow prioritization requirements.

While it was wrong for anybody to skip the vaccination line, officials would not necessarily be removed from their posts, Mr. Roque said. 

Officials who violated the protocol face charges of violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, he said. Mr. Roque said there has to be a law that punishes people who skip the priority list.

Mr. Roque said there had been a “quick substitution list” in the government’s vaccination program that allows non-healthcare workers to get inoculated.

The list was created to avoid wastage of vaccines once they were opened, Mr. Roque said.

A local chief in Metro Manila earlier explained that he allowed an actor to be vaccinated because he has comorbidities that qualified him to skip the line. Mr. Duterte has ordered the Health department to investigate the case.

Interior Undersecretary Epimaco V. Densing II said Undersecretary Jonathan E. Malaya, the agency’s spokesman who publicly got vaccinated on Mar. 2, had also been asked to explain.

Mr. Roque earlier said Mr. Malaya’s vaccination was done “in good faith” since he was supposedly not aware of the rule that all first shipments of vaccines must be used for medical frontliners.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday urged the government to hold those who skipped the line accountable.

“An effective national vaccination strategy is a vital component of an efficient national health care program, and is an important component of the equitable distribution of vaccines,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the government is processing payments for the COVID-19 vaccines after it signed two loans worth $900 million from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB), Finance Undersecretary Mark Dennis Y.C. Joven said in a mobile phone message.

The AIIB had also approved a $300-million co-financing deal to buy vaccines for the Philippines, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said in a Viber message.

The loan will complete the government’s target to borrow $1.2 billion from multilateral partners to fund the vaccination drive. — with Beatrice M. Laforga