A Filipino Muslim wearing a face mask as protection against the coronavirus disease carries a cat after the morning prayers on Eid al-Adha, outside the Blue Mosque in Taguig City, Metro Manila on July 20, 2021.

MANILA (Reuters) — The Philippines further loosened coronavirus restrictions in the capital region on Friday, allowing restaurants to accept more guests and gyms to reopen after recording a decline in daily Covid-19 cases.

The Philippines, which is battling one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in Asia, is gradually relaxing curbs to allow the recovery of the economy.

An alert level system first and small-scale lockdown system imposed on the capital region on Sept. 16 to allow for greater mobility and more businesses to reopen will remain in place up to Oct. 15.

Restaurants and personal care services were permitted to double their allowable operating capacity to 20%, while fitness studios and gyms were allowed to reopen their doors, but only to fully vaccinated clients.

"This is one step towards the recovery of the economy. People are enthusiastic about opening up," Benjamin Abalos, chairperson of the capital's council of mayors, told Reuters.

The capital region, an urban sprawl of 16 cities that is home to 13 million people, is the country's coronavirus epicenter, accounting for a third of confirmed infections and one in every four deaths. Nearly four-fifths of the area's population have already been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, government data showed.

The capital region is under a moderate risk case classification but intensive care utilization is still under a high risk level, the health ministry said.

New Covid-19 infections in the Philippines have shown signs of easing, with confirmed cases averaging 1,700 daily in the past week from nearly 4,300 in the previous week.

The Philippines, which has nearly 2.5 million Covid-19 cases and 38,294 deaths, has the second-highest infections and casualties in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.

"Be careful, my countrymen, because Covid will stay here for quite a while," Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said in a national address aired on Friday.

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