THE PHILIPPINES posted 29,828 coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 3.42 million.

The death toll increased by 67 to 53,472, while recoveries rose by 36,763 to 3.09 million, the Department of Health (DoH) said in a bulletin.

It said 41.8% of 69,014 samples on Jan. 23 tested positive for COVID-19, way above the 5% threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

There were 273,580 active cases, of which 8,371 did not show symptoms, 260,399 were mild, 3,006 were moderate, 1,496 severe and 308 were critical.

DoH said 98% of the latest cases occurred from Jan. 10 to Jan. 23. The top regions with new cases in the past two weeks were Metro Manila with 5,178, Calabarzon with 4,227 and Central Luzon with 2,787 infections. It added that 73% of deaths occurred in January, 1% in December and 3% in November.

It said 136 duplicates had been removed from the tally, 78 of which were reclassified as recoveries and one was tagged as a death, while 22 recoveries were relisted as deaths. Two laboratories failed to submit data on Jan. 21.

The agency said 51% of intensive care unit beds in the country had been used, while the rate for Metro Manila was 48%.

The virus reproduction number in the National Capital Region fell to 1.2 on Jan. 19 from 2.95 a week earlier, OCTA Research Group fellow Fredegusto P. David said in a report posted on Twitter.

Infections could spread exponentially if the average virus reproduction rate (R0) is greater than 1, according to an article published by University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine.

“If R0 is less than 1, the infection will spread only slowly, and it will eventually die out,” it said. “The higher the value of R0, the faster an epidemic will progress.”

On Jan. 22, the capital region posted 6,646 COVID-19 cases. “Comparing the number of new cases with the projections made on Jan. 20, the figure shows that new cases are tracking slightly below projections,” Mr. David said.

“A decreasing case growth rate is good news, but it is too early to celebrate,” said Renzo R. Guinto, a doctor and associate professor of global public health at the St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine.

“We might already be reaching the peak, but looking at the bigger picture, the number of cases is still very high,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat last week. “We cannot send a premature signal that things are already getting better. We cannot let our guard down.”

Based on past waves, the provinces will follow decreasing cases after the National Capital Region (NCR), he said, adding that the surge in Metro Manila in the past weeks “must already have set the alarm bells” in other regions.

Mr. Guinto said contact tracing, testing, isolation and quarantine should be intensified. “Municipalities must ramp up vaccine rollout to prevent future surges from happening should new variants of concern appear in the coming months.”

He said the government should address the surge, bring it down to pre-holiday levels “while learning the lessons on what went wrong and apply them in anticipation of future waves, which are highly likely due to new variants emerging when vaccine coverage remains low domestically and globally.”

Mr. David said the average daily attack rate in the capital region had fallen to 72 a day for 100,000 people, which is still at very high. “Residents of NCR are advised to continue to practice extreme caution and strictly comply with health protocols in public areas.”

In a separate report, he said the cities of Cebu, Iloilo and Lapu-Lapu posted new highs and were now experiencing a severe outbreak. He said Baguio City and Iloilo City have attack rates of 152.39 and 82.38, respectively. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza