The Philippines reported its highest daily number of coronavirus infections on Friday as authorities ease a lockdown in the capital to allow more businesses to operate and reduce the financial pain of poor families.
More than 13 million people in the national capital region went into lockdown on August 6 as the highly contagious Delta variant helped drive a resurgence in infections that has strained hospitals.
A Covid-19 task force agreed on Thursday to allow more businesses to open their doors from Saturday. But a stay-at-home order for non-essential workers and a ban on restaurant dining will remain in place.
The decision to ease restrictions came as the number of new infections hit a record 17,231, pushing the country's caseload to more than 1.8 million since the start of the pandemic.
"Over the coming days, the number of our Covid-19 cases may rise further," the health department said.
Health officials, fearing the Delta strain could tear through the country like it has in neighbouring nations, have been ramping up vaccinations to try to head off the spread of the virus.
About half of the targeted population in the national capital region was expected to be fully vaccinated by next week, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Thursday. Nationwide, the figure is just under 17 per cent.
Official data show hospitals in the capital are under growing pressure, with 74 per cent of intensive care beds and 70 per cent of ward beds allocated for Covid-19 cases occupied.
But President Rodrigo Duterte said recently the country could not afford more lockdowns, after coronavirus measures shattered the economy and threw millions out of work.
Mr Duterte ordered the health and budget ministries to arrange payment for healthcare workers who have not received their benefits on time, following nurses' threats to resign and strike warnings by unions.
"Pay them. Use whatever money there is," Mr Duterte told Health Minister Franscisco Duque in a recorded speech aired on Saturday.
He gave the Department of Budget and Management 10 days to help settle unpaid benefits of nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers in public and private hospitals.