THE PHILIPPINES should vaccinate more people to prevent another surge in coronavirus infections as it moves toward lifting all lockdowns, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Local governments should step up their house-to-house vaccination drive to reach more people, WHO representative Rajendra Yadav told a televised news briefing on Monday, noting that less than 70% of people in many villages have yet to get vaccinated.

“We should not rely on the number of cases to know whether we have too much COVID or not,” he said. “We need to focus on increasing our vaccination [rate].

Mr. Yadav said increased “social mixing” during the Holy Week was unlikely to have led to more virus transmissions if people wore face masks, avoided crowds and gathered in fully ventilated areas.

He said active coronavirus infections in the Philippines could hit 300,000 if people ignore health protocols. “We have to prove those numbers wrong, that’s the challenge we face.”

Mr. Yadav noted that in South Korea, whose population is half that of the Philippines, 600,000 people get infected each day.

“The good thing is Filipinos are one of the best in wearing masks,” he said. “There was some decline recently in mask-wearing. That should not happen and we have to cover our people with vaccines.”

The WHO official said the organization prefers to use the term “up-to-date with recommended schedules” instead of full vaccination.

“Fully vaccinated is a big term because definitely, it may change depending on evolving evidence. It’s better to use ‘up-to-date with the recommended schedules,’” he added.

He said reaching an endemic stage through widespread infection is “not a great picture.”

“Endemic is not a great picture because many diseases that are endemic like tuberculosis kill millions of people,” Mr. Yadav said. “Rather, we have to aim for sustained suppression of the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Philippines recorded 1,674 coronavirus infections on April 11 to 17, 12% lower than a week earlier, the Department of Health (DoH) said in a statement on Monday.

There were 200 more deaths, 51 of which occurred this month, 21 in March, 35 in February, and 36 in January.

The agency said 664 severe and critical coronavirus patients or 11.5% of total admissions were staying in hospitals.

DoH said 450 or 15.8% of 2,842 intensive care unit (ICU) beds had been used as of April 17, while 4,164 or 16.9% of 24,645 non-ICU beds were occupied.

It added that 66.85 million people had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as of April 17, while 12.64 million people have received booster shots.

Meanwhile, the  Health department said the rollout of second booster shots for some sectors had been suspended until the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) gives its final recommendation.

The local Food and Drug Administration has approved the emergency use of booster shots for senior citizens, seriously ill people and health frontliners.

Meanwhile, Japan has given the Philippines a diplomatic loan worth ¥30 billion (P12 billion) to support its pandemic response and economic recovery, the Foreign Affairs department said in a statement.

The second phase of the emergency loan adds to a loan package worth ¥50 billion signed in July 2020.

The latest loan supports government efforts to revive the economy, provide social protection and relief and build public health and economic resilience against future pandemics.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency would explore new ways to deliver its development cooperation programs in response to the Philippines’ immediate needs, according to the statement. — Norman P. Aquino, Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Alyssa Nicole O. Tan