By Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema
MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines reported on Monday its biggest daily jump in coronavirus deaths and warned of a risk of further fatalities and infections after the easing of lockdown restrictions and as authorities scramble to verify thousands of suspected cases.
A health ministry official reported 162 new deaths, which is also the biggest single-day jump recorded in Southeast Asia to date, while 2,124 new infections were announced.
The number of COVID-19 infections has more than tripled to 56,259 since June 1 when the government started easing tight restrictions, including allowing public transport, restaurants and malls to open at limited capacities to restart the economy.
The health ministry said it expected the number of fatalities to rise beyond the total 1,534, with nearly 12,000 suspected positive cases yet to be verified.
"As part of ongoing data harmonisation, we cannot avoid seeing cases not yet included in our official death count," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a news conference, which had been delayed for a day.
President Rodrigo Duterte eased one of the toughest and longest lockdowns in the world in the capital Manila in June to breathe some life back into the economy, but partial curbs remain.
He also reinstated strict lockdown measures in Cebu City from June 16, which is emerging as a new hot spot with a tenth of the country's total infections.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, in a regular briefing, described the pandemic as an "intensifying challenge" and said Manila's hospital occupancy jumped to 70% on July 11 from 48% five days prior due to a spike in cases.
A resurgence in infections was to be expected with the loosening of restrictions, former health secretary Esperanza Cabral told Reuters, but "the degree of increase" will depend on people's compliance with COVID-19 preventive measures.
While the number of coronavirus tests in the Philippines has reached 908,779, that is less than 1% of the 107 million population.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema; Editing by Ed Davies)