Quantcast

Manila area returns to lockdown as vaccinations lag, coronavirus surges

By CLARISSA BATINO AND ANDREO CALONZO | Bloomberg | Published: March 29, 2021

Stars and Stripes is making stories on the coronavirus pandemic available free of charge. See more staff and wire stories here. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here. Please support our journalism with a subscription.

The Philippines' key economic area plunged back into another lockdown for a week starting Monday as the Southeast Asian nation faces its worst coronavirus surge and a slow vaccine rollout.

Metro Manila and the adjacent provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal were placed under enhanced community quarantine or ECQ, the nation's strictest classification of movement curbs, from March 29 to April 4. A curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. will be imposed during the lockdown.

President Rodrigo Duterte may announce later in the day if the lockdown will be extended, his spokesman Harry Roque said at a briefing Monday, adding that economic impact will be balanced with further stemming the outbreak. "We can't let more people die of hunger and other reasons in our effort to lower covid-19 cases," Roque said.

The economic impact of the stay-home order is expected to be minimal as offices and financial markets will be shut on April 1 and 2 for the Easter holiday, Roque said on Saturday.

"Our main objective why we're closing down again is to make our health-care system more manageable," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at a virtual briefing Monday. "Our emergency rooms and intensive care units are choking."

The government will tap $475 million (23 billion pesos) in unused funds from last year's relief measure to aid millions affected by the lockdown, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said Monday. Economic managers will also meet to discuss "ways forward" amid the surge in infections, he said.

Before the lockdown, authorities tightened mobility in the capital and the surrounding provinces for two weeks from March 22 but cases continued to spike, hitting a record 10,016 on Monday. Daily infections have risen more than five times from the start of the year, while the percentage of people testing covid-19 positive rose to nearly 20% on Sunday from about 7% in January.

Moody's Investors Service said the spike in coronavirus infections delays the country's economic recovery, it said in a March 26 note. Pandemic containment measures implemented earlier this month are also expected to weigh on prospects of fiscal consolidation and exacerbate income equality and poverty, the rating agency said.

The Philippines, which implemented one of the world's strictest and longest lockdowns last year, suffered its worst-ever recession in 2020, prompting economic managers to push for a sustained reopening and targeted restrictions rather than a hard lockdown. Gross domestic product shrank 9.5% last year and the contraction is expected to persist this quarter.

The week-long lockdown will likely cut less than 1% from total economic output and can be offset by the impact of the corporate income tax cut signed into law on Friday, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. economist Michael Ricafort wrote in a note on Sunday.

Infections are rising globally even as countries ramp up vaccinations amid efforts to reopen economies and revive social activities.

In the Philippines, less than a third of the 1.7 million health workers had been inoculated as of March 23, while the country has received more than 1.1 million vaccine doses. One million Sinovac Biotech Ltd. Vaccines are scheduled to arrive on Monday, while around 1 million from AstraZeneca Plc are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

The Philippines is behind its Southeast Asian neighbors like Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia in inoculations, based on World Bank data. The Philippines has administered 0.2 vaccine doses per 100 people as of mid-March, compared to Singapore's 13.5 doses.

Similar to the strict lockdown imposed a year ago, only essential industries including hospitals and food manufacturers are allowed to operate at full capacity. People must work from home, may only leave for essentials and are barred from holding mass gatherings.

Malls are shut, except for tenants such as pharmacies, hardware stores, supermarkets and businesses engaged in food delivery and takeout. Public transport including trains are allowed to run at limited capacity.

The capital region, with a population of about 13 million, accounts for nearly half of the nation's total virus cases.