THE Department of Health (DoH) reported 215 more people infected with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on Friday, bringing the total number of cases to 12,091.

The death toll climbed to 806 after 16 more patients died, it said in a bulletin. One hundred twenty-three more patients have recovered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 2,460, it added.

Of the 215 new cases, 67% or 144 were from Metro Manila, 32% or 69 were from Central Visayas, while 1% or two came from other regions, the DoH said.

The agency said 2,245 health workers have been infected, 770 of whom recovered and 35 have died.

Meanwhile, Justice Undersecretary Markk L. Perete told reporters on Friday via Viber that as of May 14, there were 117 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) in the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

Of the 117, 40 are from the New Bilibid Prison while 77 are from the Correctional Institution for Women.

Mr. Perete said that four of the 117 patients have died, nine were able to recover, while four patients who tested negative are waiting for the results of their confirmatory tests.

In a virtual briefing by the DoH on Friday morning, medical anthropologist and former University of the Philippines Chancellor Michael L. Tan urged the health agency to ease guidelines on community quarantine.

Nakakalungkot na nakikita ko na ‘yung ibang areas, hindi lang lockdown kundi locked in. Hindi pinapayagan ‘yung mga tao na lumabas ng bahay. May inaaresto porque nakaupo sa labas ng bahay. Kailangan sana (gumawa) ng guidelines ang DoH dito na pwedeng lumabas, ‘wag lang maging gala,” he said. (What I see in some areas is so sad, they are not so much locked down as locked in. People are not allowed to leave their houses. There are people arrested for sitting outside their houses. The DoH has to come up with guidelines where they can do out, so long as they do not wander.)

He also urged telecommunication companies to bring down the cost of their services to aid schools and universities implement distance learning.

“They have to bring down the cost and sana (maglabas) rin sila ng mga (hopefully come out with) packages to help our students and faculty. We really have to go to online, di naman pwede na hintayin na safe na safe na (we can wait until it is completely safe),” he said.

Mr. Tan also criticized the recently institutionalized Balik Probinsya, Balik Pag-asa program, saying that the government should focus on finding urban housing for informal settlers instead of sending them to the provinces.

“We really have to do something about our problem in urban housing. Kailangan talaga mag research muna, magtanong. Yung Balik Probinsya, hindi ‘yan bago. Paulit-ulit ‘yan, it’s another term na tinatapon lang ang mahihirap sa rural areas (They should research first, ask. That Balik Probinsya, that is not new. It has been done before, it is another term for tossing the poor away to the rural areas). Let us not complicate matters, we have to find urban housing for our informal settlers, hindi pwedeng itapon sa probinsya (we can’t toss them away in the province),” he said.

The initiative aims to encourage urban residents and businesses to relocate to provinces, and thus decongest Metro Manila and promote countryside development.

The virus has sickened 4.5 million and killed more than 303,000 people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.

About 1.7 million people have recovered from the disease, it said.- Genshen L. Espedido