20210426 covid-19 manila
A man rides his pedicab with a slogan to remind people to wear masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Manila. Image Credit: AP

Manila: The number of coronavirus cases logged in the Philippines since the start of the pandemic topped one million Monday, as a health official warned against easing restrictions, to give hospitals some "breathing room".

Nearly 9,000 new infections in the past 24 hours took the country's caseload to 1,006,428 - the second-highest in Southeast Asia - with 16,853 fatalities, government figures show.

Limited testing means the actual number of cases is probably much higher.

A lockdown imposed on the national capital region and four surrounding provinces at the end of March to slow a record surge in infections appears to be working.

New cases in the capital - the epicentre of the outbreak - fell 20 percent to an average of 3,841 per day last week, data released by independent research group OCTA show.

The occupancy rate of hospital beds allocated for COVID-19 patients has also eased after capacity was boosted and isolation facilities for mild cases expanded.

But Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said infections would go back up if restrictions were relaxed now.

"As a health agency, we in the DOH (Department of Health) see the importance of continuing these kinds of restrictions so there is breathing room and space for decongestion of our healthcare system," Vergeire said ahead of a government task force meeting to decide on the issue.

"This is primarily our major concern."

The government has been redeploying healthcare workers from low-transmission regions to the capital to support struggling hospitals.

Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon said more medical volunteers were "urgently" needed.

Under current virus rules, indoor dining is banned, non-essential travel curbed, public transport capacity limited and businesses such as gyms and beauty salons closed.

Wearing a mask and face shield in public has long been mandatory.

There are growing concerns about the impact of the measures on the already devastated economy.

President Rodrigo Duterte's economic advisers estimate that the first two weeks of lockdown cost about 252,000 jobs and slashed household income by nearly 30 billion pesos ($620 million).