Philippines Defers Easing, Keeps Metro Manila’s Covid-19 Curbs

Metro Manila will remain under the “modified enhanced community quarantine”. | IMG SOURCE: AFP

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine authorities have deferred easing restrictions on public movement in the capital region, keeping the current Covid-19 curbs potentially through Sept 15, despite a day earlier announcing a relaxation of curbs to spur business activity.

Imposition of the more relaxed “general community quarantine” in Metro Manila has been deferred, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said, without giving a reason.

Stocks and the peso fell.

The decision means a delay in the government’s planned shift to smaller and localised lockdowns, which Roque said had been approved in principle by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Restaurants are limited to takeaway and delivery business, and beauty salons and spas are shut, he said.

The current condition will be kept until Sept 15, or sooner, if a pilot programme that features targeted lockdowns in specific hot spots gets under way before then, according to the statement.

The Philippines has among the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Asia and has been battling an epidemic since March last year, which has hamstrung efforts to revive an economy that contracted more than 9% in 2020.

Cases in the past 30 days alone accounted for more than a fifth of the country’s 2.1 million cases, while total deaths have exceeded 34,400.

Health workers in hazmat suits walk outside the Manila COVID-19 Field Hospital in Manila, Philippines, September 7, 2021 | MG SOURCE: REUTERS/Lisa Marie David

The announcement of an extension of curbs will sour the mood of small business owners who were anticipating better times with a relaxation of restrictions from Wednesday.

Salon owner Ricklem Badiang had been looking forward to getting his business back and running after weeks without income.

“We are hoping that we will have at least some customers because we owners have nothing left to shell out to pay for building rent and employee’s pay,” Badiang said before the government’s announcement.

The economic impact of a week of second-strictest movement restrictions in the capital and nearby areas is 74 billion pesos (S$2 billion), Economic Planning Secretary Karl Chua told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Gross domestic product will recover to pre-pandemic level by the end of next year or early 2023, he said.

The announcement is a retreat from a planned loosening of restrictions and a shift to targeted lockdowns in the capital region, which was supposed to start on Sept. 8.

The peso weakened for a fourth day, losing as much as 0.3 per cent against the US dollar early on Wednesday, while the benchmark Philippine Stock Exchange index declined as much as 0.7 per cent, among the biggest drops in Asia.

Daily cases in the Philippines have been increasing by near records in recent days, bringing the total to more than 2.1 million as of Tuesday. Strict lockdowns have destroyed jobs and damped consumption.

The government last month cut the economic growth outlook for this year after tighter restrictions, including in the capital region, were imposed due to the Delta variant.

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