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

HEALTH authorities on Monday flagged the increasing coronavirus cases in northern Philippines after nine more people from Cagayan Valley got infected with the coronavirus variant first detected in the United Kingdom.

“This might explain why cases are increasing in Tuguegarao City,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told an online news briefing on Monday. “We will submit samples for whole genome sequencing.”

The region had 2,835 active coronavirus cases as of May 16. The UK COVID-19 variant is said to have a reproduction rate that is 1.35 times the usual coronavirus.

DoH on Saturday said 13 more people had gotten infected with the coronavirus variant from the United Kingdom, bringing the total to 967. The nine people from Cagayan Valley were among these.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 5,979 coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 1.15 million.

The death toll rose by 72 to 19,262, while recoveries increased by 6,602 to 1.08 million, it said in a bulletin.

There were 54,235 active cases, 1.4% of which were critical, 93.3% were mild, 2% did not show symptoms, 2% were severe and 1.25% were moderate.

It said 17 duplicates had been removed from the tally, 11 of which were tagged as recoveries and one as death. Thirty-one recoveries were reclassified as deaths.

About 11.8 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of May 15, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 163.7 million and killed 3.4 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.

About 142.2 million people have recovered, it said.

Meanwhile, the use rates of facilities for coronavirus patients in the Philippines were now below critical levels, presidential spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. said at a separate news briefing.

“We haven’t reached a moderate risk level in all our healthcare care utilization,” he said.

Only 58% of intensive care unit beds in the country had been used and about 43% of isolation beds were occupied, he said. Mr. Roque said only 47% of ward beds had been occupied, while about 40% of ventilators were used.

In the capital region, 57% of ICU beds had been occupied, while 42% of isolation beds were occupied. Mr. Roque also said 47% of ward beds had been occupied, while 46% of ventilators were used.

Ms. Vergeire said local governments should not be complacent and should monitor compliance with health standards. They should also shorten the detection to isolation period to 5.5 days to reduce cases by two-thirds, she said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte last week put Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal under a general community quarantine (GCQ), with heightened restrictions from May 15 to 31.

Mr. Roque said the stricter version of the general lockdown was imposed to  sustain the gains of previous lockdowns.

He said libraries, gyms, swimming pools, indoor tourist destinations and venues for conferences in these areas were still barred from operating.

Mr. Roque said President Rodrigo R. Duterte was ready to use his social fund to help the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) after it was hit by fire at the weekend.

“The last message from the President was ‘Ask and you shall receive,’” Mr. Roque said at the briefing attended by PGH Director Gerardo D. Legaspi.

Meanwhile, the Philippines targets to start vaccinating economic frontliners and other sectors next month, he said.

Frontline workers in the transport sector, media, wet and dry markets, several government agencies and migrant Filipino workers were recently included in the vaccination priority. People working in telecommunications, cable and internet service companies, electricity and water distribution utilities who deal directly with customers were also included.

Also included were people in basic and higher education institutions, religious leaders, workers in the Justice sector, security and social protection services, among other government workers.

More than 2.9 million coronavirus vaccines have been given out as of May 15. About 2.2. Million Filipinos have received their first dose, while about 700,000 completed the required doses.

Mr. Roque said 35% of 110 million target Filipinos may be vaccinated against the coronavirus by August. He added that people outside the priority groups might be inoculated by the third quarter.

Vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. earlier said Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao would be prioritized in the vaccination drive.