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Coronavirus

Duterte eases Manila lockdown in bid to boost tanking economy

Government will expand testing and contact tracing of symptomatic patients

A boy wears a face shield while watching an online learning class from a smartphone in his home in Manila on Monday.   © Reuters

MANILA -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte approved a relaxation of lockdown rules in the Philippine capital after two weeks of strict measures aimed at easing pressure on a healthcare system overwhelmed by rising COVID-19 infections.

The easing of community quarantine restrictions in Metropolitan Manila and four nearby provinces, home to a quarter of the nation's population, will come into effect on Wednesday.

"This will be looser, more industries will open," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a televised meeting with the president late on Monday.

Roque said people would be able to eat in restaurants and a limited number of people could attend religious services. Public transportation which was suspended during the "modified enhanced community quarantine" can now resume under "general community quarantine," according to earlier guidelines.

Like many leaders globally, Duterte has had to weigh whether opening up a tanking economy would risk a further rise in infections.

The Philippines surpassed Indonesia's infection tally to become Southeast Asia's COVID-19 hotspot on Aug. 6, the same day that the government confirmed the economy had plunged into its first recession in three decades. Gross domestic product shrank by 16.5% in the second quarter.

The Philippines had 164,474 coronavirus cases as of Monday, a third of which were recorded during the last two weeks.

Roque said the government will expand testing and contact tracing with "house-to-house" searches of symptomatic patients as the economy reopens. A "localized quarantine" will also be implemented in villages or areas with community transmissions, according to a separate task force resolution.

Duterte reimposed a lockdown in the capital and surrounding areas on Aug. 4 after the local medical community warned the president that the country was in a "losing battle" against COVID-19. Doctors told him that the country's healthcare system had been "overwhelmed" by surging coronavirus cases after the economy was first reopened in June.

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