MANILA (Reuters) – Tens of millions of people in and around the Philippine capital will go back to a strict lockdown from Tuesday, threatening incomes and hopes for reviving a once dynamic economy as authorities take drastic measures to halt surging virus cases.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippines was one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, but tough restrictions from mid-March to May pushed it to the brink of recession, and hopes for a swifter recovery are looking bleak with the return of measures set to squeeze commerce.
The lockdown in Manila and nearby provinces is being reinstated for an initial two weeks after a prominent medical group warned the healthcare system could collapse from soaring COVID-19 cases that scaled new records on four straight days until Monday.
“It’s a bitter but necessary pill given the plight of our medical frontliners,” said Francis Lim, president of the Management Association of the Philippines.
“We hope the government will deep dive into our COVID-19 strategy and find more effective ways to execute it.”
The Philippines <.PSI> was the biggest laggard in Asian stocks on Monday, declining as much as 3.9%, a more than two-month low on depressed investor sentiment.
“Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine” is being re-imposed, barring public transport, closing many shops and advocating working from home. Movement will be limited to just one person per household for buying essential goods.
‘BACK TO SUFFERING’
Quarterly growth data due on Thursday will likely show the economy suffered a deeper contraction than the first quarter’s 0.2% decline, piling pressure on government to provide fresh stimulus to aid businesses and the rising number of unemployed.
“Instead of getting back to work to make a living for my family, we’re now back to suffering,” said Arnel Teodoro, a Manila tricycle driver.
“Even if it is just for two weeks it will be very hard for us.”
Nicholas Mapa, economist at ING bank, said the Philippines was heading for a “severe crash landing”.
“The probability of the economy returning to its former glory any time soon now declining by the day,” he said.
Case numbers have grown exponentially since curbs were eased in June. The Philippines recorded 3,226 new infections on Monday, with total confirmed cases reaching 106,000.
Bong Mian, who works at an eatery in the Makati business hub, said he worries about making ends meet.
“We had regular jobs but starting tomorrow, we won’t have any,” Mian said. “We might go hungry.”
(Additional reporting by Adrian Portugal; Editing by Jane Wardell and Martin Petty)