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Philippines records highest COVID-19 deaths, recoveries as cases rise to 4,648

The Philippines reported its highest number of fatalities from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on Sunday, after the Department of Health (DOH) announced 50 more deaths, bringing the toll to 297.

The total number of cases nationwide leaped to 4,648 after the department confirmed 220 new infections.

The country also tallied a record-high number of recoveries on Sunday at 40, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 197.

The DOH explained that the 50 new deaths include previously unreported fatalities due to the clearing of testing backlogs, while all 40 recoveries are new and include those who were admitted to hospitals and under home quarantine.

The Philippines has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, next to  Malaysia which has recorded 4,683 cases according to its Health Ministry as of Sunday.

But the Philippines has now overtaken Malaysia as the country with the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, according to data from think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

As Luzon marks its fourth week on lockdown, the government’s inter-agency task force leading the COVID-19 response has made the disclosure of infected patients’ personal information mandatory. 

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, the spokesman of the task force, said such disclosures will bolster contact tracing efforts, which will now be led by the Office of Civil Defense. 

Increasing testing capacity

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said COVID-19 testing centers across the country were able to process 1,208 specimens on Saturday.

Of this number, 98 came out positive while 1,026 were negative.

“Hindi pa po ito ang maximum capacity ng ating mga testing centers,” Vergeire said at a virtual press briefing. “Tinatayang puwede pa tayong umabot sa 2,100 tests per day.”

She added that laboratories are close to meeting the target testing capacity of 3,000 specimens per day ahead of the scheduled start of widespread testing of suspected COVID-19 cases on April 14, Tuesday.

The health official also said 33,814 people had been tested for the disease so far.

Twenty-eight institutions are undergoing the DOH's laboratory certification process for COVID-19 testing, while 37 others have expressed an interest in receiving accreditation.

“Kapag certified na po, inaasahang meron silang learning curve kung kaya’t hindi po ibig sabihin na libo-libong test na agad ang kanilang kayang gawin,” Vergeire explained.

The DOH also announced that the Department of Science and Technology will be lending polymerase chain reaction machines to laboratories.

The University of Philippines Diliman and Manila, meanwhile, are both training scientists and medical technologists who will work at testing centers to facilitate two to three shifts each day. —Julia Mari Ornedo/LBG/BM, GMA News