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Economy

Philippines warns of worst postwar GDP contraction due to COVID

Forecast flags deeper-than-expected decline of up to 9.5% before rebound in 2021

A man fixes his mask as he walks past a mural dedicated to health care workers fighting the coronavirus in Manila.   © Reuters

MANILA -- The Philippine economy is on course for its worst annual contraction of the postwar era, due to lengthy coronavirus lockdowns, President Rodrigo Duterte's economic team projected on Thursday.

Gross domestic product is expected to shrink by 8.5% to 9.5% this year, eclipsing the 7.0% annual contraction recorded in 1984, based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. That fall over three decades ago occurred near the end of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, when the Southeast Asian nation plunged into economic and political crises.

The latest outlook, disclosed by the Development Budget and Coordination Committee, is worse than the 4.4% to 6.6% shrinkage projected in July.

The Philippines' GDP shrank around 10% from January to September, pulled down by continuing restrictions in major economic centers as coronavirus cases soared. Thursday's count of 1,061 new infections brought the total to 435,413 -- one of the highest tallies in the region -- while the death toll stands at 8,446.

Nevertheless, economic officials said the country will bounce back during the last two years of the Duterte administration.

GDP is projected to rebound well into positive territory -- to the 6.5% to 7.5% growth range -- in 2021 before expanding 8% to 10% in 2022 thanks to the reopening of the economy. "When the vaccine is available, we will see further normalization," Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua said in an online briefing.

In the same briefing, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez stressed: "The productive capacity of the Philippines has not been damaged. What has limited us is the fear of getting infection. But the factories are there, the call centers are there ... our economy is hobbled by restrictions on mobility."

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