Finance chief sees Metro Manila shifting to relaxed quarantine by April
MANILA, Philippines — With mass vaccination started, Metro Manila may be placed under the least stringent COVID-19 quarantine by April so the economy could quickly recover from the pandemic-induced recession, President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief economic manager said on Monday.
Asked if a shift to the more relaxed modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) would be possible next month, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III replied: “I believe so.”
The national and local governments are “working together with the private sector to assure that all adults are inoculated as soon as possible,” said the 75-year-old finance chief, who cannot be inoculated with the China-made CoronaVac vaccine because the Food and Drug Administration does not recommended it for the elderly.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said on Monday that more vaccinated Filipinos would lead to better consumer and business confidence. Lopez also cannot receive CoronaVac “because [I] just turned 60 years old,” he said.
The economic team wanted to further ease quarantine restrictions to revive up to 95 percent of the economy.
On Sunday, the President said he was reconsidering placing Metro Manila under MGCQ.
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said the National Economic and Development Authority, which he heads, “will regularly review the health, economic and vaccine data to make our next recommendation to the President.”
It was Chua who two weeks ago urged Mr. Duterte to ease quarantine restrictions starting this month. But the President rejected that proposal without mass vaccination under way.
Before the pandemic, about three-fourths of the economy was bolstered by household and private-sector consumption.
But the longest and most stringent COVID-19 lockdown in the world pushed the Philippines into a recession last year, leaving millions of Filipinos jobless and thousands of businesses shuttered.
The 9.5 percent contraction in gross domestic product in 2020 was the country’s worst postwar economic performance.
Growth may remain negative during the first quarter even as the government targeted full-year economic expansion of 6.5-7.5 percent this year.
That target takes into consideration a prolonged quarantine during the first few months of the year while vaccine purchases and deliveries trickled.
Higher production costs
But London’s global information provider IHS Markit Ltd. on Monday reported that the Philippines’ purchasing managers’ index (PMI) remained at an over two-year high of 52.5 in February, similar to January’s.
A PMI above the neutral 50 mark meant a year-on-year increase in domestic manufacturing activities.
“Latest PMI data shows further progress across the Filipino manufacturing sector, with another solid overall expansion [was] recorded during February,” IHS Markit economist Shreeya Patel said in a report.
But Patel also pointed out that the prolonged pandemic “continues to pose a large threat with material shortages and transportation delays” resulting in higher production costs, which were then passed on to consumers through more expensive products.
“For now, controlling the COVID-19 pandemic remains at the heart of the Philippines’ agenda, and while vaccines have been secured, delivery delays have severely hindered efforts to vaccinate the nation,” she said.
—WITH A REPORT FROM ROY STEPHEN C. CANIVEL
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