MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday eased the strict coronavirus lockdown in and around the capital Manila as his government promised a “refreshed” approach to fighting COVID-19 that includes intensified testing.
Duterte, in a televised address, said there was a need to reopen the economy with small and medium enterprises “barely surviving”, while at the same time calling on the public to “follow the safeguards”.
The Philippines, which before the pandemic was one of Asia’s fastest growing economies, fell into recession for the first time in 29 years with a record slump in the second quarter, due to the pandemic-induced lockdown.
The Philippines, which has the most number of coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia, has so far recorded a total of 164,474 infections and the death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 2,681, according to health ministry data.
The quarantine measures were reimposed in the capital and nearby provinces from Aug. 4-18 after a group of doctors and nurses warned that the healthcare system could collapse.
Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesman said, the government used the two-week window to “refresh” and “reboot” its responses against the coronavirus pandemic, to allow for business activity to resume and let more people to go back to work.
Under the relaxed rules which take effect on Aug. 19, Roque said, most businesses, including dine-in services will be allowed to reopen. Religious services will also be permitted provided that houses of worship limit total attendance to 30% of a building’s capacity.
“We will intensify our testing,” Roque said, adding the government will continue to conduct house-to-house checks to trace COVID-19 patients with mild or no symptoms so they could be escorted to isolation centres.
The government has so far tested more than 1.9 million and it aims to test 10 million people – or nearly a tenth of the population – by the second quarter of next year.
In the same address, Duterte also thanked Russia and China for offering to provide the Philippines with COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they become available.
He said he would ask Russia President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping for a credit line so the government could afford the vaccine.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Angus MacSwan)