MANILA, Dec. 17 (Xinhua) -- The Department of Health (DOH) of the Philippines on Thursday reported 1,470 new confirmed cases COVID-19 infection, bringing the total number in the country to 454,447.

The DOH said 633 more patients recovered, raising the total number of recoveries to 419,902. The death toll climbed to 8,850 after 17 more patients died from the viral disease, the DOH added.

"There has been a continuous growth of cases in Metro Manila, signaling the start of a surge," the DOH said in a statement, warning of a "sharp spike" in COVID-19 transmission if the trend continues.

The DOH said it has also observed an increase in the number of cases in some provinces in the northern Philippines.

"If this trend continues and not mitigated, it will lead to a sharp spike of cases that might overwhelm our health system capacity, similar to the peak we experienced in August in Metro Manila," the DOH warned.

The DOH said "the occurrence of another surge will no longer be a matter of 'if', but of 'when and by how much.'"

"We have witnessed what a spike in cases might mean to us -- the extensive lockdowns and how it has affected our families, the healthcare workers, the small businesses and large enterprises alike, and how it almost, if not completely, paralyzed our economy. We do not want that to happen again," the DOH said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has reiterated his appeal to the public to obey health standards during holiday celebrations to contain the spread of coronavirus as the government strengthens the healthcare system for the possible uptick in the number of infections.

"Christmas time is about a few days from now. But there are rules to be followed at this time of our national life," Duterte said during a public address and meeting with officials on the government's COVID-19 response late on Wednesday night.

Duterte specifically urged the people to follow the minimum health standards such as social distancing, frequent handwashing, and wearing masks to protect themselves and their families from the deadly virus as the country celebrates Christmas and New Year.

In the past few months, the DOH said the country had seen a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases.

From a peak in August that almost overwhelmed the health system, consuming nearly 80 percent of the critical care capacity, the DOH said the country managed to reduce the reproduction number to around 1.0 from a starting reproduction number of 3.27.

Moreover, the DOH said the government also managed to maintain a lower critical care utilization rate even in highly-urbanized cities, saying improvements were seen in the management of COVID-19 cases, as reflected by lower case fatality rates.

"We, as a nation, have come a long way in our COVID-19 response. But the virus is still here, and we should remain cautious and vigilant," the DOH said in a statement.

"As we celebrate this holiday season, let us put prime importance on our safety and the safety of everyone around us. Let us not squander our gains in this pandemic response," the statement read.