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Health

Philippines urges virus vigilance after lowest cases in eight weeks

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MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines reported its lowest number of new daily coronavirus cases in nearly eight weeks on Monday, but officials sought to temper optimism and warned of a prolonged battle as the pandemic rages on.

The health ministry confirmed 1,383 new infections, bringing total cases to 238,727, the highest in Southeast Asia, but the least since July 14. It reported 15 new deaths, taking total fatalities to 3,890.

Officials warned against complacency as the economy reopens.

“This challenge of COVID-19 could extend to next year. First of all, we cannot be complacent and ignore the threat,” Vivencio Dizon, who leads the government’s testing program, told a news conference.

Only three-quarters of testing laboratories submitted results on Monday, however, less than the 82% average in the past week.

The Philippines from mid-March to June imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, during which new daily cases were reported in the low hundreds. But infections started soaring soon after, as authorities eased restrictions in a bid to revive the country’s troubled economy.

The capital and nearby provinces are still under coronavirus restrictions until end-September, limiting the movement of non-essential personnel and banning social gatherings to prevent more infections. International travel and movement between regions remains restricted.

“We are in the process of flattening the curve but this process can easily be reversed,” Ranjit Rye, a University of the Philippines professor and part of a research group whose projections and recommendations have guided the government’s lockdown measures.

“The government should not overestimate this achievement and underestimate the virus,” Rye told Reuters, adding that the improvement in testing, contact tracing and isolation should continue.

Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty

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