THE PHILIPPINES is unlikely to extend the strict lockdown in the capital region and nearby provinces after April 11, according to the presidential palace, even as coronavirus infections breached the 800,000 mark on Monday.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte would probably put Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite under a modified enhanced community quarantine, his spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. told the ABS-CBN News Channel.

The President on Saturday extended the enhanced community quarantine for another week after Health authorities the day before reported that 15,310 more people had gotten the COVID-19 virus.

“I don’t think an enhanced community quarantine for a third week is actually a possibility,” Mr. Roque said. He added that the Department of Health (DoH) had recommended two weeks of a strict lockdown that would be eased after.

He earlier said a lockdown extension in the so-called National Capital Region (NCR) Plus bubble would depend on the government’s capacity to subsidize affected residents.

The Palace official said the shift to a more relaxed lockdown would also depend on whether coronavirus infections have been curbed.

Mr. Roque noted that a two-week enhanced community quarantine followed by a week-long modified enhanced lockdown was expected to lower infections to 4,000 daily cases by mid-May.

The Department of Health, meanwhile, said the shift to a more relaxed quarantine should be gradual.

“It should not jump from an enhanced community quarantine to a general community quarantine,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a televised news briefing on Monday.

She added that hospitals should be decongested first before easing restrictions in Metro Manila.

Ms. Vergeire said the hospital use rate should go down to at least 60% from as much as 80% before lockdowns were eased. Intensive care unit beds in the capital region were almost full.

“We need to bring that down so we can say that our healthcare system can manage,” Ms. Vergeire said.

At the same briefing, Mr. Roque said an inter-agency task force had passed a resolution authorizing the Office of Civil Defense to buy 500,000 rapid antigen test kits using its quick response fund.

The task force also approved a recommendation by the Labor and Trade departments to intensify the enforcement of minimum public health standards at workplaces. 

The government would order companies to secure a safety seal that will serve as proof of compliance, Mr. Roque said.

He also said the task force had approved the request of the Southern Tagalog region to suspend inbound passenger travel from NCR Plus areas, Cebu City and Davao City until April 10.

DoH reported 8,355 coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 803,398.

It reported the highest daily tally of 15,310 cases on Good Friday that included 3,709 cases that were reported late.

The death toll rose by 10 to 13,435, while recoveries increased by 145 to 646,237, it said in a bulletin.

There were 143,726 active cases, 97.5% of which were mild, 1.1% did not show symptoms, 0.5% were critical, 0.6% were severe and 0.34% moderate.

The agency traced the lower tally to reduced laboratory operations during the Holy Week.

It said eight duplicates had been removed from the tally, while four recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Three laboratories failed to submit data on April 4.

About 9.8 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of April 3, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened around 132 million and killed 2.9 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.

About 106.3 million people have recovered, it said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas