MANILA, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Philippines surged to 301,256 with 2,747 new coronavirus infections reported by the health ministry on Saturday.
The ministry said the number of recoveries rose to 232,906 after 787 more patients recovered. Meanwhile, 88 more patients died from the pandemic, bringing the death toll to 5,284.
The capital region Metro Manila was the country's worst hit area with 1,115 cases newly confirmed on Saturday.
The ministry said over 3.37 million people in the Philippines have been tested so far.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the ministry is seeing an "improvement" in the country's critical care utilization rate in the last two weeks, adding that there has been a "slow decongestion" in hospitals, including in Metro Manila.
Vergeire said the critical care utilization rate in Metro Manila, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, has gone down to about 60 percent from a high of up to 81 percent - a level considered the "danger zone" - in August.
The critical care utilization rate serves as an indicator based on the use of mechanical ventilators, intensive care unit beds and isolation beds in hospitals.
"We can see the slow decongestion of our facilities, meaning hospitals have the capacity to take in more COVID-19 patients," Vergeire said at a televised media briefing.
While the transmission rate has gone down to less than one and it now takes a long time for COVID-19 cases and deaths to double, she said the health ministry continues to monitor virus clusters in Metro Manila and other regions.
The health ministry is closely monitoring 1,963 virus clusters in hospitals, jails, and densely populated communities in the southeastern Asian country.
"We need to look at the other indicators because there are still specific areas in Metro Manila that there are still clustering of cases, and there is an observed increase of cases," she said.
Despite the improvement, she said the government needs to continue to strengthen the health system in its efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"Let us remain to be vigilant. Protect yourselves. Let us not be complacent because we are hearing that our health system capacity is improving. Let us continue to follow health protocols to prevent infection and protect our families," she said.
The Philippines continues to recruit more health workers, including doctors, nurses and medical technologists to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The health ministry said a total of 9,133 health care workers contracted the virus, including 60 deaths.
Metro Manila remains under general community quarantine until Sept. 30. The government will announce whether to ease or retain the lockdown status for the following weeks before the end of the month.
The Philippines has been under varying degrees of lockdown since mid-March.