Philippine capital back in lockdown as virus cases surge

Philippine capital back in lockdown as virus cases surge

Residents queue up to enter a market in Manila on March 28, 2021, after the Philippines announced that more than 24 million people in and around Manila will go into lockdown next week as hospitals struggle to cope with a surge in Covid-19 coronavirus infections. (AFP photo)
Residents queue up to enter a market in Manila on March 28, 2021, after the Philippines announced that more than 24 million people in and around Manila will go into lockdown next week as hospitals struggle to cope with a surge in Covid-19 coronavirus infections. (AFP photo)

The Philippines placed the Manila region and nearby provinces under lockdown for a week from Monday to stem the nation’s worst coronavirus surge that’s overwhelming hospitals in its key economic area.

The national capital region and the adjacent Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal provinces will be under an enhanced community quarantine or ECQ, the nation’s strictest classification of movement curbs, from March 29 to April 4, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said on Saturday. A curfew from 6pm to 5am will be imposed during the lockdown.

“Our health care utilisation rate has reached a critical level in NCR and nearby provinces,” Roque said. “We really want to take drastic measures because the rise in cases has been drastic because of these new variants. Drastic threats warrant drastic response.”

The stay-home order will have minimal economic impact as it coincides with a long Easter weekend where offices and financial markets are shut on April 1 and 2, Roque said.

The Philippine Stock Exchange will stick to the shortened trading hours implemented in the early days of the pandemic, bourse President Ramon Monzon said on Sunday. Bonds, foreign currency and swap trading hours will be unchanged from Dec. 1 when the Bankers Association of the Philippines went back to the pre-pandemic schedule, Managing Director Benjamin Castillo said.

Recession

The government had tightened mobility in the capital and the surrounding provinces for two weeks from March 22 but cases continued to spike, hitting a record 9,808 on Friday. Another 9,595 infections were added on Saturday, taking the total to 712,442. 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 16% last week from about 7% in January.

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. About 2 million more from AstraZeneca Plc and Sinovac Biotech Ltd are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

Stay Home

Similar to the strict lockdown imposed a year ago, residents in areas affected must work from home if they are able and may only leave for essentials, and are barred from holding mass gatherings. Hospitals and health emergency services, manufacturers of medical supplies, farm sector and delivery of food and medicine are allowed to operate as usual.

Malls will be shut, except for tenants such as pharmacies, hardware stores, supermarkets and businesses engaged in food delivery and takeout. Businesses trading in other essential goods and services, including media establishments, can operate at up to 50% capacity, while industries including capital markets, finance, telecommunications and airlines are among those that must operate with a skeletal workforce.

Public transport including trains will be allowed to run at limited capacity while priority construction projects can continue. The capital region, with a population of about 13 million, accounts for nearly half of the nation’s total virus cases.

Other Key Points

  • There will be increased presence of soldiers and police to conduct checkpoints and enforce protocols, while local government officials will be more proactive in detecting cases, contact-tracing, testing
  • Senior citizens and people with co-morbidities will be included in the vaccination priority lists along with health workers, as the government seeks to speed up inoculation
  • Religious gatherings in the predominantly Catholic nation during the Easter week will be prohibited
  • Other sectors to operate with skeletal forces: government offices; medical services, including dental, optometry and veterinary clinics; manufacturing; funeral and embalming; security; water and energy utilities; business process outsourcing; repair and maintenance; humanitarian assistance
  • Economic managers to determine the amount of assistance to people in ECQ areas whose work will be affected by the lockdown
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